A couple who ran a charity raising funds for Afghan orphans stole more than £500,000 ($707,404) and spent it on luxury cars and shopping sprees.
Syed Hajnajafi and his wife Akila Kassam, from south London, targeted mosques to ask for donations for their charity Afghan Poverty Relief.
But over a seven-year period they stole the money and spent it on themselves.
The Charity Commission has now banned them from being trustees again and an investigation by the watchdog has concluded they intentionally abused their charity for criminal purposes.
“Charity represents the best of human characteristics – that’s why the behaviour and conduct of those involved in charities matters,” said Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director of Investigations and Inquiries at the Charity Commission.
“This charity was set up to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including orphans in Afghanistan. Instead of ensuring donations received by the charity were applied for charitable purposes, two of its then trustees abused and exploited it for criminal purposes.
“In doing so, they committed criminal offences, breached charity law and exhibited behaviours which fell far below the legal and public expectations of how trustees should behave.
“I am pleased that our investigation has helped bring those individuals to justice, and that, together with the police and the interim manager, we have ensured significant sums, that would otherwise have been lost, were returned to charity.”
The pair were jailed for a total of eight years and ordered to pay back more than £400,000 to the charity.
The Commission appointed an interim manager of the charity who visited the Afghan orphanage in Ghazni and has arranged for another charity to continue supporting it.
During its investigation, the regulator analysed the charity’s bank accounts, as well as personal and business accounts associated with the couple.
It discovered that over £254,000 was withdrawn from the charity’s accounts, and over £215,000 was paid into personal and business accounts linked to the charity’s former trustees.
As part of its investigation, the Commission also found that the trustees failed to keep adequate records and that many of the receipts and records it scrutinised were undated.
The defendants were both convicted of theft. Hajnajafi was jailed for five years and Kassam for three.
“This was a sophisticated scheme that evolved with numerous bogus receipts written down to pretend that monies of the charity had gone out to Afghanistan for the relief of poverty when the money had been stolen in cash by you,” Judge Warwick McKinnon told them.
“It appears to me that it started in a fairly small way and once you had seen how easy it was to steal the charity’s money it mushroomed.
“This was money to keep you in the style and beyond the style to which you had become accustomed over a period of time.
“It is difficult to envisage a worse type of breach of trust offence.”
Kassam was born in Uganda and came to the UK in the 1970s as a child and was granted citizenship as a refugee.
Hajnajafi came to the UK in 2000 from Afghanistan and was granted British citizenship when the couple married.