Salesman jailed for £3.3m fraud against university in decade-long scam

Aasim Johar colluded with a senior manager at Edinburgh University to perpetrate the crime against the institution over a decade.

Salesman jailed for £3.3m fraud against Edinburgh University during decade-long scam Getty Images

A salesman was jailed for seven years after committing a £3.3 million fraud against a Scottish university.

Aasim Johar colluded with a senior manager at Edinburgh University to perpetrate the financial crime against the institution over a decade.

The 53-year-old was found guilty of forming “a fraudulent scheme to obtain goods, hospitality, vouchers and money” between June 28, 2005 and November 23, 2015, alongside Geoff Turnbull who is now deceased.

Lord Lake said the offence involved premeditated conduct of dishonesty and Johar obtained commission on orders of “a significant sum”.

He said that Johar and Turnbull took advantage of lax financial controls at the academic institution to perpetrate the offence.

The jury was told how, in 2005, Johar managed Kent-based Universal Solution’s account with Edinburgh University and formed a business relationship with Turnbull in his role as the university’s assistant director of estates and buildings. 

Under the plan, Turnbull regularly placed orders with Johar for quantities of cleaning products which were not required by the university, and which were rarely delivered. 

Johar, who was known to Turnbull as Alan Scott, received an eight per cent commission on rising sales to the university. 

In 2005, annual purchases for goods seemingly purchased by the university came to £47,801, but by 2014-15 the pattern of yearly expenditure had escalated to £853,371. Over a decade, the fraud cost the university a total of £3.3m. 

The court was told that Turnbull resigned in July of 2015 at the same time as several operational changes were conducted by the university. 

Their scheme then began to unravel following a stock take and financial check by university officials identified suspicious transactions with Universal Solutions which had been overseen by Turnbull. 

Jurors heard evidence that cleaning products at the university were, in fact, supplied by another company, whose annual budget for providing materials was £600,000. However, by 2015, the budget for Universal Solutions had been raised by Turnbull to £1.2m. 

A police search of Turnbull’s home in April 2016 revealed evidence of the “promotions” he had received through companies linked to Johar and Universal Solutions, including gift cards and vouchers for Tesco, Next, Marks & Spencer and Rocco Forte Hotels.  

They also found iPads, iPhones and Apple watches that had been bought through personnel from Universal Solutions. 

The court was told how Johar directed Turnbull, formerly of Rhodes Park in East Lothian, to forward some of the “promotions” on to third parties and others back to himself. 

Specialist officers from the police cybercrime unit examined Turnbull’s laptop and identified a number of messages to the accused. 

Advocate depute Erin Campbell said Johar and Turnbull had taken part in a procurement fraud with Turnbull ordering increasing amounts of cleaning products and other items from Universal Solutions.

The prosecutor said that the Crown’s contention was that the only business conducted between the men between June 2005 and November 2015 was “the business of fraud”.

She said Turnbull placed the orders with the firm and received a number of “promotions” for himself, some of which were returned to Johar and sent on to others.

She said: “The evidence suggests many of the goods were never delivered and those that were were not required by the university.”

The court heard the firm set aside a percentage of income from sales for promotions that could be used for tickets for major sporting events, such as English Premier league games or the British Grand Prix, along with shopping and hospitality vouchers and other gifts.

Ms Campbell told jurors: “The evidence shows that Geoff Turnbull was receiving high level gifts on a regular basis and Aasim Johar was receiving commission.

“This was money taken from a huge institution of considerable means. The fraud started small and grew and grew, I suggest as those involved became bolder and bolder,” she said.

“Geoff Turnbull and Aasim Johar were lining their own pockets under the pretence of a legitimate business relationship between the two organisations they represented,” she said.

Solicitor advocate Stuart Munro, for Johar, said there were pieces of evidence suggesting that some deliveries had taken place and goods were used.

He said there was no evidence of Johar benefiting from transactions beyond the commission he received.

Mr Munro said Johar was assessed as being a very low risk of reoffending and has always insisted on his innocence.

He said it was Johar’s first time before a criminal court and his first experience of custody to which he has not adjusted well.

The judge told the first offender that in sentencing him he took into account his age, health and the fact that a trial was hanging over him for some time.

Mr Munro said Edinburgh University has raised civil proceedings at the Court of Session in Edinburgh and Johar also faces a confiscation action to claw back proceeds of crime.

Sineidin Corrins, deputy procurator fiscal for specialist casework at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), said:  

“This was a complex and elaborate fraud which cost the University of Edinburgh millions of pounds in misappropriated funds over a period of ten years.  

“The scale and breadth of Aasim Johar and Geoff Turnbull’s elaborate and fraudulent scheme and dishonesty during that period was breathtaking.  

“Their systematic dishonesty caused enormous financial damage to a famous educational institution. 

“But Aasim Johar will now spend a lengthy time in jail for his crimes thanks to the diligent work of skilled COPFS prosecutors, working with criminal justice partners to establish the truth and ensure a successful conviction.”  

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “The University thanks Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for their handling of this case.”

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