21 December 2018
A Cambridge University academic who fraudulently claimed almost £2.5 million in government grants has been jailed for four years, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency.
Dr. Ehsan Abdi-Jalebi, age 38, a former engineering student and Bye-Fellow at the university, used faked documents to siphon off money into his own accounts from funding allocated to the development of renewable energy projects.
The money was used by Abdi-Jalebi to fund a lavish lifestyle that was well beyond the means of his legitimate income, including the purchase of a property near Cambridge and the lease of a Maserati sports car.
He was initially detained by Border Force officers at Heathrow as he attempted to board a flight to Tehran in September 2015. Officers found £137,000 cash hidden inside his luggage and referred the case to the NCA.
However, Abdi-Jalebi was able to provide documents which showed the money was his and had been sourced legally, so he was allowed to proceed.
He was stopped again at Heathrow in December the same year, again carrying around £100,000 cash this time concealed inside chocolate boxes (right). The money was detained as NCA investigators noticed that he attempted to use many of the same documents as he had in December 2015 to prove its provenance.
In May 2016 he attempted to leave the country carrying a large amount of cash, around £16,000, which was also detained. This sparked a further investigation by the NCA into Abdi-Jalebi’s finances and the companies he was involved with, who were all in the business of renewable energy research.
Investigators discovered that the companies had made a series of grant applications to the government to fund research, but on a number of occasions Abdi-Jalebi had falsified documents, including invoices, accounts and bank statements to show what was happening to the money.
Forged invoices were sent to his accountants outlining payments that were either non-existent or for which the amount had been altered.
At the same time he had used the bank accounts of some of his PHD research students to receive what were referenced as ‘studentship payments’ from the companies, with the money then being transferred into his own personal accounts.
In total investigators found he had fraudulently claimed around £2.5m in grants. Analysis of his personal accounts by the NCA showed that he had withdrawn more than £820,000 in cash over a period of just under 4 years.
NCA investigators also believe he took hundreds of thousands of pounds to Iran where some or all of it was invested in property.
On Friday 21 December at Blackfriars Crown Court Abdi-Jalebi admitted 13 counts of forgery and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings will now commence.
NCA senior investigating officer Ian Truby said:
“While the companies that Dr Abdi-Jalebi was involved with were doing some legitimate work in the field of renewable energy, he used them as a cash cow to siphon off money.
“This money had come in as government grants, so it was essentially stolen from taxpayers.
“Through some great detective work and after analysing thousands of documents NCA investigators were able to prove that he was a fraud.
“While we have identified a number of UK assets held by Abdi-Jalebi the likelihood is that most of the money ended up in Iran, which will make it far more difficult to recover.
“However, we will do everything in our power to recover as much of that UK taxpayers’ money as possible.”
Sarah Vodden, Director of Operations at Innovate UK said:
“By carrying out this fraud, Abdi Jalebi deprived genuine innovators of the opportunity for funding for their ideas.
“This was a sophisticated fraud that was deliberately constructed to evade the counter fraud checks we had in place at that time. We are grateful for the thorough work carried out by the National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service to bring Jalebi to justice.”
Nick Jariwalla, Director, Border Force Heathrow said:
“Abdi-Jalebi was first stopped when one of our Border Force detector dogs sniffed out the £137,000 hidden in his hand luggage. While he was able to account for the cash to the NCA’s satisfaction at that stage, the intelligence gained enabled my officers to make two further stops which ultimately proved to be his undoing.
“These Border Force interventions were the crucial first steps in bringing Abdi-Jalebi to justice and putting an end to his lucrative criminal enterprise.”