Manjit Singh
Manjit Singh Image Credit: IANS

London: A woman, unaware that she is falling for a "romance fraud", stole nearly £1 million from her employer and gave it to her online lover who did not exist.

Manjit Singh, 60, of Toxteth was sentenced by Liverpool Crown Court this week to two years' prison after she admitted eight counts of fraud, the Metro newspaper reported.

Singh transferred £958,180 from her employers' accounts at Lei Dat & Baig solicitors in Liverpool to another she believed belonged to Ravi Jani after meeting on a dating site.

The court heard that Singh fell for Jani after he promised to come to the UK to marry her, and told her that he needed money to ship his equipment over from a Gulf country, where he claimed to have been working.

They met on a dating site and it emerged during investigations that the lover was fictitious and has not been traced by the police to date.

Peter Killen, prosecuting, told the court Singh joined the legal firm back in 2014 as a volunteer on IT systems.

By 2019, as a full-time employee, she had been trained and trusted to transfer money between client and office accounts and make payments under the supervision of owner Naeem Baig.

read more

When Baig checked his business account on October 6, 2021, he was shocked to find the expected balance of £800,000 was just £40,000, the Metro reported.

When Baig found eight transactions of between £1,000 and £260,000 made in the past two weeks all to the same account, Singh told him she had mistakenly made them from the company account instead of her own.

She showed Baig a photo of a cheque from Jani reimbursing the money, along with screenshots of a bank account purportedly belonging to her lover containing more than $2,000,000.

Singh admitted making the transfers and said: "It's just a stupid thing that I have done thinking that I was helping someone and then I end up getting myself caught, thinking the money would come back to the account, you know, and all would be OK".

When her bank accounts were examined, there was no evidence she benefited financially in any way from the fraud.

"Not only were you a fraudster, you were also a victim of a fraud and what has rightly been called a romance fraud. You were duped and were yourself subject of a classic online con. You did not receive one penny for that which you did dishonestly and at the time it is quite apparent you had been exploited," the Metro quoted Judge David Aubrey KC as saying.

"He (Jani) inveigled his way into your life, you were accommodating, indeed, in my judgement you were in awe," the judge said while sentencing Singh.

Jani kept assuring Singh the money would be repaid but from October 7 onwards he stopped answering messages, the court heard.

Judge Aubrey said the solicitor's firm has been reimbursed by its insurers and Baig is now on anti-depressants as he had to put forward his personal assets to guarantee payments, the Metro reported.

Defence lawyer said Singh has long-standing mental health problems, was going through a difficult time and was "ripe for exploitation".