London

'Disabled' wedding dance man jailed for benefit fraud

A benefits fraudster who claimed he was bed-ridden yet was filmed dancing at a wedding has been jailed.

Mohamed Bouzalim, 37, cheated the authorities out of nearly £400,000, Isleworth Crown Court heard.

He will serve nearly seven years for 11 counts of deception, fraud and assisting illegal entry into the UK.

The court heard he had also falsely claimed asylum saying he was an Afghan who had been tortured by the Taliban when in fact he was from Morocco.

Bouzalim flew into Heathrow airport in June 2001.

Image caption Bouzalim claimed to be from Afghanistan but was in fact Moroccan

He told the authorities he had been tortured, that the Taliban had murdered his father and his mother was dead.

But according to the UK Border Agency (UKBA), he was an illegal migrant from north Africa.

Over the next decade, he used false names, passports, driving licences, and other ID cards to claim almost £400,000 in benefits including money to pay family members to be his full-time carers.

At the height of the scam, he was receiving £66,000 a year tax free and managed to do a masters degree and later study for a PhD at The School of Oriental and African Studies in central London.

Bouzalim pretended he could not walk and was in need of 24-hour care.

He was provided with a specially converted ground floor, two bedroom council flat in Kilburn, north-west London, with wheelchair access.

But during an investigation, Metropolitan Police officers secretly filmed Bouzalim walking unaided from his flat and down the street.

'Top class fraudster'

When they raided the purpose-built property they found a video of him dancing at his wedding in Morocco in 2009.

Robert Coxhead, senior investigating officer from the UKBA Criminal and Financial Investigation team, said: "Mohamed Bouzalim was a top class fraudster and con artist. His whole life was a lie."

The agency added that it was because of the "overwhelming weight of evidence" including the wedding video, that he admitted his crimes.

He received £137,602 from north London's Camden Council to pay for his carers, around £70,000 in housing benefit, £60,000 from the Independent Living Fund, £74,000 in income support and £15,000 disability living allowance.

Instead of his parents being dead, they in fact came to the UK on visitor visas and then allegedly acted as his carers.

They now live in London and claim pension tax credits and housing benefit, totalling about £2,000 a month.

But Bouzalim also owned a property in Leyton, east London, which he rented out for £1,200 a month.

"I think it's outrageous," said Mr Coxhead.

"What's worse about it is there are so many needy people out there who perhaps don't have the access to the benefits they should do and here is a man perfectly able, an intelligent man and he's deceived a number of different organisations."

Bouzalim, who speaks six languages including the Afghan language Pashto, was given exceptional leave to remain when he arrived in the UK in 2001.

He was granted indefinite leave to remain in April 2007 and granted British Citizenship in June 2009.

At Isleworth Crown Court, he admitted 11 counts of deception, fraud and assisting illegal entry into the UK.

Three other family members pleaded guilty to defrauding Camden Council.

A Camden Council spokeswoman said: "Abuses of the benefit system take money away from those genuinely in need and we are pleased that this fraud was detected and the full extent of the law used.

"We have robust internal controls in place to detect frauds such as housing and council tax fraud and where necessary take the appropriate action to prosecute and reclaim any monies paid to claimants who are found to be abusing the system."

The Department for Work and Pensions has been contacted by BBC London but has not responded regarding the case.

The UKBA says it will now look to deport Mr Bouzalim, who was jailed for six years and 11 months.

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