Salesman swindled Edinburgh University out of millions in elaborate scam

The University of Edinburgh was targeted by Aasim Johar and Geoff Turnbull.
-Credit: (Image: GettyImages)

A salesman was jailed on Friday May 24 after committing a £3.3 million scam against a university after colluding with a senior manager at the institution.

Aasim Johar, 53, while acting with Geoff Turnbull, formed a fraudulent scheme to obtain hospitality, vouchers, money and goods at the expense of Edinburgh University.

During the 10-year scam goods were ordered and paid for even although they were not required and not always delivered. The total fraud amounted to £3,338,943 with a further attempted fraud for £136,478.

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Johar, who was known to Turnbull as Alan Scott, received an eight per cent commission on escalating sales to the university and Turnbull received gifts, hospitality and vouchers.

When police searched the home of Turnbull, the former assistant director of estates and buildings at Edinburgh University, at Rhodes Park, in North Berwick, East Lothian in April 2016 they found gift cards for Tesco, a voucher for Next, Marks and Spencer vouchers and a gift voucher for Rocco Forte Hotels.

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They also discovered ipads, iphones and Apple watches which were purchased through personnel from Universal Solutions (International), of Bromley, Kent, who Johar worked for in sales.

Johar, of Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, had denied committing the fraud between June 2005 and November 2015 and claimed there was no wrongdoing on his part. But a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh unanimously found him guilty of the crimes.

His counsel Ronnie Renucci KC asked for bail for the first offender to be continued while a background report is prepared on him ahead of sentencing next month.

The judge, Lord Lake, told Johar: "You have been found guilty of fraud and attempted fraud. As Mr Renucci recognises both are serious matters."

He said he had decided not to continue bail and remanded him in custody ahead of his sentencing appearance.

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

She said the Crown contended that between June 2005 and the end of November 2015 the only business conducted between Johar and Turnbull was "the business of fraud".

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

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

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

The prosecutor said: "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.

Ms Campbell said it was clear that some cleaning products were delivered but maintained that the majority of them were not.

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She said Turnbull was a senior strategic manager but was placing all the orders with the firm and meeting drivers to sign for deliveries.

The advocate depute said: "He didn't want to delegate any of these tasks because he knew this was an ongoing fraud."

Johar was served with papers for a proceeds of crime action to clawback any illegitimate profits from him.