Conman Cambridge academic ordered to pay back he £1m scammed from government

A former Cambridge academic has been forced to pay back £1m he defrauded through government energy grants - after he was caught red-handed at an airport with £100,000 cash stuffed into chocolate boxes.

Ehsan Abdi Jalebi, 42, tricked a government green energy project into granting him more than £2m.

The public money was used to fund a lavish lifestyle for the professional fraudster, who invested in properties and leased out a Maserati sports car. 

Jelabi, whose own website says he was a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge between 2009 and 2018, has now been forced to pay back £1m so far after the National Crime Agency (NCA) worked across national borders to track down his hidden assets.

There was doubt whether Jelabi could be forced to return the money after it was found that his money was protected in abroad accounts.

Rob Burgess, head of asset denial at the NCA, said: “This is a hugely significant result and demonstrates the agency’s ability to recover criminal assets even under challenging circumstances, such as where they are held abroad.

"We have demonstrated our drive and ability to pursue continuous enforcement activity against those subject to confiscation orders to ensure they do not retain the proceeds of their crime."

The stolen cash seized from Dr Ehsan Abdi-Jalebi. Credit: National Crime Agency

Jelabi was first apprehended at Heathrow Airport in 2015 where he tried to board a flight to Tehran in Iran with £100,000 in cash hidden in Thornton's Continental chocolate boxes.

The Iranian national then played the same trick again in 2016 but was also apprehended by Border Force.

He used his company Wind Technologies Ltd to apply for green energy grants from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Innovate UK.

Jelabi lied on documents to apply for the grants and used affiliate companies to duplicate applications, with the supposed purpose of funding research.

He reported false information on bank statements, invoices and documents to show how the grant money was being spent.

Jelabi also used the bank accounts of PhD research students working at the company to receive "studentship payments" from the companies, which were then transferred into his personal bank accounts.

The cash was stuffed into boxes of Thorntons Continental chocolates. Credit: National Crime Agency

He was threatened with a seven-year default prison sentence if he failed to pay the £1,055,977.78 he was ordered to repay, based on his foreign wealth available.

The fraudster was forced to sell assets and repaid a further £60,000 after selling a house in Trumpington in Cambridgeshire.

He was sentenced to four years in prison on 21 December 2018 at Blackfriars Crown Court in London after admitting to 13 counts of forgery. He was released from prison in December 2020.

Cynthia Caiquo, CPS proceeds of crime legal manager, said: “Jalebi stole government money, which was intended to provide green energy and help improve the environment.

"Through our work with international jurisdictions we were able to secure the repatriation of £1m, which has now been returned to fund future projects."

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