Sunday 20 January 2019

Father-of-three jailed for two years after he stole €178,000 in stolen social welfare payments

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A man who stole €178,000 in social welfare payments and used part of it to fund his masters degree has been sentenced to four years with the final two years suspended.

Mazin Albaqir (51) failed to tell department officials he had a property in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with an approximate value of €110,000, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard previously.

He also failed to disclose savings of €47,500, prosecution barrister James Dwyer SC told the court.

Albaqir, with an address in Old Court Avenue, Firhouse, Dublin, pleaded guilty to seven counts of stealing social welfare payments in the form of jobseekers allowance and rent supplement from the Department of Social Welfare between February 2002 and December 2009.

The court heard he is a married father-of-three who is originally from Iraq. He has lived in Ireland since 1999 and is an Irish citizen.

Garda Enda Daly told the court that Albaqir, who has a degree in Food Safety from the University of Baghdad, initially did well when he first arrived in the country but then fell into financial difficulty.

Over the course of nearly seven years, he stole €178,000 from the department, the court heard.

In November 2015, Albaqir was stopped in Dublin airport by a customs officer when he arrived into the country on a flight from Dubai. He had a number of documents in his possession, including ones that showed he was the owner of a property in the UAE.

Albaqir has an Irish passport in his current name and an Iraqi passport in a different name with a different date of birth. He also changed his name by deed poll in Ireland in 2012 and had documentation in a variety of names, the court heard.

The social welfare fraud was carried out under one name, Gda Daly confirmed.

Defence barrister Pieter Le Vert said it was not unusual for people from Middle Eastern countries to use a variety of names, saying they are not as “firmly established” over there. He said his client, who has no previous convictions, has since repaid €56,000 to the department and now owes just under €123,000.

Mr Le Vert said the property in the UAE was in fact bought by Albaqir's father, who lives in Iraq with his mother and siblings. That property was purchased in case the family needed a place of refuge should the political climate in Iraq deteriorate.

The court heard the property was put in Albaqir's name as he is the only family member living outside of Iraq and the only one with a European passport.

That house has since been put up for sale with an asking price of €110,000 and the proceeds of the sale will go towards paying of the Department of Social Welfare, Mr Le Vert said.

Albaqir is a well-educated man who is extremely remorseful and ashamed for his actions, the court heard. A letter of apology was handed up to court along with a number of references.

Mr Le Vert said it was a “most unusual case” in that Albaqir used part of the social welfare money to fund his masters degree.

Despite his qualifications, the court heard Albaqir has not been able to get work in his area of expertise. The court heard he works in two shops, while continuing to hunt for better employment.

Today, Mr Le Vert confirmed that his client has paid an additional sum and now owes just over €112,000. The house has still not been sold despite efforts being made to sell it.

Judge Pauline Codd sentenced Albaqir to four years in prison but suspended the final two years having taken into account his co-operation and guilty plea. She accepted that he does not appear to be at risk of re-offending, has no previous convictions and is of previous good character.

She said it was necessary to state that welfare fraud is not a victimless crime. “It is offending against the principals of fairness and social solidarity,” Judge Codd said.

She accepted evidence that Albaqir has been admitted to hospital since for suicidal ideation and has also separated from his wife.

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