£42,000 benefit fraudster walks free - because savings 'were for daughter's dowry'

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A benefit fraudster who claimed £42,000 by concealing his savings has walked free from court after saying the nest-egg was for his daughter's dowry.

Zohural Alam received a total of £42,298 in income support over seven years, claiming he had no savings.

But he was caught when investigators found £20,000 hidden in high-interest accounts and other investments, the Old Bailey was told.

Alam, 61, claimed the savings had been deposited by a relative in Bangladesh to pay the bridegroom's family when daughter Farjana married - though she has still to wed.

Judge Martin Stephens, QC, told the father-of-four that although such offences usually meant an immediate prison term, there were 'exceptional circumstances'.  

Passing a seven-month suspended sentence, the judge said: 'You knew you were doing wrong. You have faced up to it and pleaded guilty.

'But the fact is you were acting dishonestly... A short immediate prison sentence would be fully justified.'

However, the judge said there were 'exceptional circumstances', with no evidence to disprove Alam's claims about the dowry.

'I am sentencing today on the basis that the information you have given may be right, and I have no reason to suppose that the money wasn't being looked after by you for a form of dowry for your daughter,' Judge Stephens said.

Alam claimed income support 'on the basis that he was unfit and unable to work' from January 1999 until his scam was discovered in March 2006, prosecutor Ross Cifonelli told the Old Bailey.

Benefit regulations in 1999 ruled out income support if there were savings above £8,000.

But a week after first claiming income support, Alam apparently invested £6,000 in a Legal & General personal equity plan. By May 2000, a further £14,000 had also been invested in Legal & General ISAs.

The money in the equity plan and ISAs was recently transferred to the account of his daughter Farjana Alam.

Sheriyar Patel, defending, told the court: 'It originally came from his nephew in Bangladesh for the specific purpose of a dowry - kept for that purpose, but then wasn't used.

'It's in her name, but she hasn't been married.

'It's unfortunate - in some quarters clearly social customs such as dowries still exist.'  

The judge replied: 'It's not unfortunate. If that's the culture and that's the position, then so be it, but the fact is it doesn't allow someone to avoid disclosing money in their own name whilst claiming benefits.'  

Judge Stephens said he also considered Alam's health issues - including diabetes and heart problems - when passing sentence.  continues here

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