United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean journalist Clemence Marijeni’s prison sentence has been increased by seven years after he was found guilty of being “at the heart” of £720 000 maternity allowance fraud.
Marijeni was already serving a 10-year jail term after he was convicted of fraud in a sham marriage scam following a trial in October 2016.
Marijeni worked as a sports reporter and later sports editor for Chronicle in Bulawayo for many years and for the now defunct Weekend Tribune before he relocated to the UK.
According to the Express and Star, Marijeni produced fake documents for the money-spinning rackets, which ran simultaneously for almost four years, the Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.
But the graphics expert pocketed more cash by selling forged paperwork to others involved in the two frauds while using eight bank accounts under false names to collect at least £55 000 from bogus maternity allowance claims for himself.
Meanwhile, Marijeni and his Zimbabwean wife Poula Chikuhwa (37) – who was also part of the swindle – have a mansion built in their home country.
The gang made at least 165 fake maternity applications between May 2011 and August 2015, pocketing £450 000, but would have collected £720 000 if a considerable number had not been spotted as phony by Department of Work and Pensions officials and were rejected.
Henry Bazra, the alleged brains behind the operation, was interviewed by investigators, but fled the UK before he could be arrested and is now thought to be in Malawi. Hundreds of bogus documents involving both this swindle and the sham marriage racket were found on a computer discovered at the home of Marijeni in Weston Road, Bilston, but the maternity allowance conspiracy was still under investigation when the other case went to trial.
Czech and Slovakian people allegedly working and living in the UK were paid to tie the knot.
Mr Harpreet Sandhu, prosecuting, said: “He was more than just a facilitator of criminal activity – he was directly engaged with it.”
Personal details of almost 30 people working with one of the gang were used on fake benefit claims, which were laundered through the bank accounts of others among the dozen people convicted of involvement in the fraud.
Bogus application forms were submitted with a forged maternity certificate confirming either a pregnancy or birth, apparently signed by a member of a GP practice with an official stamp meant to prove the document’s authenticity.
Bogus pay slips were sent with the form in a bid to trick officials into believing the applicant met the basic requirement of having worked for at least 26 of the 66 weeks immediately preceding the birth.
Judge Barry Berlin said while passing the latest sentence on Marijeni: “You are a clever, devious, thoroughly dishonest man. This was a well organised and ruthless fraud against the public purse and you were one of the prime movers.”
Marijeni’s wife, Chikuhwa, was jailed for three years after using the name of a cousin to set up two bank accounts into which money from the scam was paid, but made the mistake of settling her own rent with some of the cash.