Zimbabwean man jailed for £1 million bank fraud

Father-of-two Sonny Chibuwe, 29, of Heights Lane, Heaton, was the sixth person to be sentenced for the conspiracy. They have now been given prison terms totalling 21 years.

Leeds Crown Court was told that the conspirators used the postal system to steal cheque books.

Prosecutor Tim Capstick said the cheque books were forged or altered, paid into defendants’ accounts and money withdrawn.

Several banks were targeted, mainly the Halifax and mostly in the West Yorkshire area starting in Bradford.

The court heard that Chibuwe was a Zimbabwean national who had fled the regime in his home country in 2002 and was seeking asylum in the UK.

His lawyer, Jayne Dodson, said he had connections with the Opposition party in Zimbabwe and had been involved with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in this country. She said he was well respected in that party but had now blighted his reputation.

Chibuwe admitted to depositing cheques on eight or nine occasions, for which he was paid a wage.

Judge Kerry Macgill told Chibuwe, who pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to defraud, he had chosen to become involved.

The judge said: “This conspiracy cost the banks in the region of £1 million. This wasn’t small fry, it was a large conspiracy to defraud the banks of a lot of money.”

He said he had every sympathy for the defendant’s domestic situation in Zimbabwe.

But Judge Macgill told him: “You helped and played a part in plundering the banking system.

“The message has got to go out that if you are here seeking asylum, however difficult your financial situation, you cannot resort to criminality on this scale and not receive a custodial sentence.”

He said the sentence meant Chibuwe, who has a wife and two children in this country, was liable to deportation, but added: “That’s the unfortunate consequence of your criminality.”

The case was part of West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Illmington, launched in 2007 and involving the execution of warrants at 30 addresses in West Yorkshire and beyond.

The investigation is ongoing and ten men and a woman have been interviewed and bailed pending further inquiries. The Telegraph Argus