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Clerk admits £250k theft from diabetes charity

PUBLISHED: 11:04 17 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:37 07 September 2010

Zainab Akhtar

Zainab Akhtar

Ben McPartland A DEVIOUS employee pilfered more than a quarter of a million pounds worth of valuable donations from a national charity, a court has heard. Zainab Akhtar, 28, diverted huge sums of money belonging to Camden Town-based charity Diabetes UK i

Ben McPartland

A DEVIOUS employee pilfered more than a quarter of a million pounds' worth of valuable donations from a national charity, a court has heard.

Zainab Akhtar, 28, diverted huge sums of money belonging to Camden Town-based charity Diabetes UK into the various bank accounts of friends and family.

The money, which added up to around £258,000, was taken from grants which were intended for various universities to fund research into possible treatments and finding ways to prevent diabetes.

Detectives have told the Ham&High they are still hunting for more than 20 people in connection with the crime.

Akhtar, who had changed her name from Sherifa Ali, worked as a purchase ledger clerk in the finance office at the headquarters of Diabetes UK on Parkway.

She began stealing the money in autumn 2005 and carried on undetected for the next six months.

She left the company before her theft was noticed, changed her name and laid low for the next three years until she was arrested in July this year.

After pleading guilty to 20 counts of transferring money by deception at Blackfriars Crown Court yesterday, Judge Pillay told the "devious" Akhtar: "This is a significant theft because of the way it impacts on the whole population."

Prosecuting barrister William Saunders told the court that Akhtar began transferring money in September 2005. She would simply replace the university's bank account details on the charity's database to those of friends or relatives.

Once the transfers of up to £33,000 each had gone through, she would reinstate the universities' details so her bosses believed the money had gone to the right beneficiary.

Her dishonesty was only discovered when a professor from Southampton University contacted Diabetes UK, formally the British Diabetic Association, to enquire about research funding which they expected but had not received.

Bosses at the charity called in external auditors who revealed the true extent of the theft. Akhtar was only discovered this summer when the passport office became suspicious when she lodged a fast track application to change her name.

Mr Saunders said there was little chance of the money ever being recovered because the bank accounts have since been closed or emptied.

Defence barrister Mimma Sabato told the court that her client began stealing the money after the sudden death of her father and she was unlikely to ever work again because of her crime.

Det Con Martyn Clark, from Camden's Payback Team, the force's financial crime unit, said the case should be used as a warning to other charities.

He said: "They should tighten their procedures. Charities have a tendency to trust anyone and everyone, that is the problem. This sends out a message loud and clear that you will be found out even five years later, no matter how long it takes.

"In terms of employee theft this was one of the most serious we have come across and the fact it was a charity will make it worse. Our investigation is not over. We are still looking for at least 23 people who are linked with this case."

A spokeswoman for the charity apologised to all its donors.

She said: "Diabetes UK works hard with our auditors to try to ensure we have robust financial controls. We apologise to our supporters that this fraud has taken place. Since this event came to light we have introduced even more controls and believe we have minimised the chances of such an event taking place again. We will continue to pursue routes to regain the stolen funds.


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