FEDERAL agents have been given the green light to quiz the mother of a Melbourne man accused of running a major immigration racket.
One hundred Australian Federal Police and Border Force officers raided Australia Post delivery centres, homes and businesses across Melbourne in August last year.
AFP agents seized $8.5 million worth of assets, including a $560,000 Ferrari Spider, a Range Rover, six properties, jewellery and $180,000 in cash.
Balwyn couple Baljit “Bobby” Singh and Rekha Arora, along with associates, Mukesh Sharma and Rakesh Kumar, were charged with serious fraud offences over the conduct of two government-subsidised colleges — St Stephen Institute of Education and the Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education.
The AFP also sought the forfeiture under Proceeds of Crime laws of the assets of Mr Singh, Ms Arora and Mr Singh’s mother, Surinder Kaur and associated companies.
The forfeiture and associated exclusion and compensation applications by Mrs Kaur and a company of which she is the sole director have been stayed pending the outcome of the criminal matters against Singh and Arora.
Police allege the two institutes were fronts to attract foreign nationals, who paid up to $10,000 with promises of a working visa or permanent residency at the end of their course. But instead of studying, the foreign students were subcontracted to Australia Post to sort and deliver packages for below-award wages.
The AFP said the colleges had charged over $9 million in fees to international students as well as claiming some $2 million in government funding as registered training organisations.
The Supreme Court court heard Mrs Kaur, 56, who lives in Melbourne and does not speak English, is not accused of being involved in the fraud but is the sole director, secretary and shareholder of Pabla Investments Pty Ltd, which is the trustee of the Pabla Investments Family Trust whose designated beneficiaries are Mr Singh and Ms Arora.
Pabla owned a property in High Street Preston, which fetched $2.8 million in a mortgagee auction in April, and had funds in a bank account in its name.
Police told the court they believe Mr Singh is in effective control of the company because he was listed as the contact for that account and was able to operate a second bank account in his mother’s name.
There were also significant transfers of funds into the accounts operated by Mrs Kaur and Pabla from entities controlled by Mr Singh, Mr Kumar and Mr Sharma, including the institutes, and the seized Ferrari purchased in 2014 in the name of Mr Singh’s wife had the registration plate PABLA9.
The AFP’s application to examine Ms Kaur about her affairs was opposed by Ms Kaur, and her son and daughter-in-law, who argued that to deal with the application before the criminal trial would be an abuse of process as it could be used as a fishing expedition for the criminal matters and that the stay already granted on the forfeiture order precluded any examination until after the criminal case.
Handing down his decision Justice John Forrest said there was no legal reason the examination could not proceed ahead of the trial.
“To my mind, there is no injustice to (Mrs) Kaur by ordering the examination to take place in the next couple of months. Nor is there any injustice to (Mr) Singh and (Ms) Arora, as long as the information obtained is quarantined and direct and derivative use of the material obtained precluded from disclosure to the prosecuting authority,” he said.
Mr Singh, Ms Arora, Mr Kumar and Mr Sharma face charges of defrauding the Commonwealth and falsifying documents including police checks and student records.
In November last year Mr Singh’s bail conditions were tightened after he was accused of speaking to a prosecution witness. He also faces charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice and committing an indictable offence while on bail.
Rakesh Kumar is a part owner of the St Stephen institute in Melbourne’s north and Mukesh Sharma owned and ran Symbiosis in Footscray.
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