A CHARITY director who used fake names to pocket more than £11,000 meant for vulnerable young asylum seekers and refugees has avoided jail.

Fraudster Saeeda Imaan, 40, almost forced Oxford-based group Asylum Welcome to close down when she made up dozens of fake clients and diverted money intended for those in need, Oxford Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor John Law said between April and October 2012 the then-director of the charity, based in Magdalen Road, filled out petty cash vouchers using 32 made up names and received a total of £3,615.

He said she also pretended to make payments to 21 real clients, but kept £7,175 for herself and then pressured the asylum seekers into lying and saying they had received them. Mr Law added that Imaan, of Iffley Road, Oxford, also used £430 of the charity’s money to pay her own rent.

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He said: “The measures taken to carry the fraud out and keep it hidden were significant. She pressured other witnesses to lie on her behalf and say they had received the money.

“It was a charity that plainly needed these funds, which were intended for some highly vulnerable and desperate people. There were a number of different groups who suffered.

“There were the refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who had lost everything in their own countries and then had their good names tarnished by being drawn into a criminal enterprise that was not of their making.

“Young people who put their trust in this defendant and felt that it was abused. The charity itself has a very small team that was very badly hit by the fraud.

“The reputation of the charity has suffered, because it has to raise funds and as soon as the word fraud is used it takes a considerable struggle to rebuild trust.”

He quoted current charity director Kate Smart, who in a statement said: “She stole from those least able to find support. She lied, bullied and nearly destroyed us.”

Mr Law said the charity was only rescued by an anonymous donor and an emergency fundraising drive last summer.

Imman was arrested October 12, 2012, and pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud by abuse of position.

The court heard she had a previous conviction for benefit fraud dating back more than 10 years.

Tanveer Qureshi, defending, said: “The reality is the charity was able to get that money together, they were able to raise sufficient funds to stay open.

“And a proportion of the £11,000 was used for the charity itself, but used in an unauthorised way.

“The money was never used to find a lavish lifestyle, this is not someone who was taking money and going on holiday.”

At Thursday’s hearing Recorder Goodwin told Imaan she had abused “a position of trust” and her fraud had affected a relatively large number of victims. But he said because of evidence that she suffered with mental health problems – including anxiety, depression and psychosis – it would not be right to send her to prison.

Imaan was sentenced to 20 months, suspended for two years, with a mental health treatment requirement. A confiscation hearing to try to recover some of the money will be held on February 27.

Current chairman of trustees Asylum Welcome, the Very Reverend Bob Wilkes said: “We are saddened that, two years ago, one particular fund under our management, which benefitted from the gifts of one donor, was defrauded by the previous director. The general funds, which received grants and public donations, were not affected.

“Asylum Welcome follows the correct procedures for recruitment and appointment, and there would have been careful discussion about the outcome of CRB checks. I was not a trustee at the time, and so cannot comment from my own knowledge.

“Most of the staff and a number of the trustees joined the organisation since that time, and we are working hard to maintain the vital services to our vulnerable clients.

“Our fundraising was affected for a time... However, now we are moving towards fulfilling our budget hopes for this year. We are very grateful indeed that a large number of volunteers and supporters keep the work going.”

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