A jailed immigration solicitor who turned to crime only two years after qualifying has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Sheikh Muhammad Usman was jailed for seven years at Croydon Crown Court in April this year for assisting illegal immigration through the “hijacking of identities”.
The SDT said Mr Usman was born in 1972 and qualified in 2008. He “became involved in the criminal activity” in 2010.
“Although he was not particularly experienced as a solicitor, he was a mature individual aged 35. Of the four defendants, he was the only qualified solicitor.
“The judge described the offences as particularly serious and striking at the heart of the immigration system and undermining public confidence in that system.”
The SDT went on: “A crime had been committed which was deliberate, calculated and repeated. It was elaborate, sophisticated and involved a high degree of planning.
“It continued over a period of time from 2010 to 2016. As a participant, [Mr Usman] concealed his activities, which only stopped because the criminal activity was discovered. Vulnerable people were exploited.”
Mr Usman, both at his trial and his SDT hearing, which he did not attend as a serving prisoner, maintained his innocence. He has appealed his conviction.
“He asserted that he was a victim of crime and had been deceived, which the judge did not accept, and he had been convicted. The only real mitigation he asserted was that he was innocent.”
Counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said Mr Usman had been involved in a “fairly sophisticated” illegal immigration scheme, the ringleader of which was a Home Office employee, Shamsu Iqbal.
Judge Gower QC told Croydon Crown Court that Mr Iqbal accessed Home Office records of genuine individuals who had, at some point in the past, been in contact with it over their status.
He changed the records to “enable impostors to take the records of genuine individuals”.
The three other defendants would act as legal representatives of the impostors, corresponding with the Home Office to legitimise their immigration status.
Judge Gower said the motivation was “financial rather than humanitarian” and Mr Iqbal profited “to a very considerable extent”. A “considerable number of people” were helped to remain in the UK in breach of immigration law.
As an example of the impact on innocent individuals as a result of the “hijacking of identities”, the judge gave the example of a man detained at Heathrow and then Harmondsworth for nine days before the true position could be understood.
By virtue of his conviction, Mr Usman was found to have breached a number of SRA principles and showed a lack of integrity.
The allegation that he failed to notify the SRA of the date of his trial or fact of his subsequent conviction was rejected. He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £2,500.