Posing as a member of the Nigerian Royal family, he mingled with diplomats, captains of industry and senior police officers. Dr Yilkyes Bala was chauffeur-driven in a black Bentley and hosted sumptuous dinners at the Dorchester to mix with society’s elite. But the supposedly flourishing businessman was in fact a criminal mastermind responsible for an ambitious immigration racket.
Investigators believe he helped more than 100 of his countrymen, including most of his extended family, to enter the UK illegally under false and stolen identities. At the centre of the scam was a corrupt Home Office worker who sold him genuine, but improperly issued, refugee passports for £1,500 each. Bala then used his network of security companies to give the illegal immigrants references and jobs. They could then ‘hit the jackpot’ and obtain a National Insurance number, giving them full citizen’s rights and access to State benefits.
But the racket, which continued for up to 16 years, unravelled when the Home Office employee was caught out.
This week Bala, 55, was starting a seven year jail sentence from August 1st, after a jury convicted him of conspiring to breach immigration laws. A judge at Canterbury Crown Court said the charming fraudster was ‘at the hub’ of a ‘significant conspiracy’ to beat UK border security.
The conviction is an embarrassment for those who mixed with Bala, including the Nigerian Ambassador and senior officers at City of London Police.
The charming conman referred to himself as ‘His Royal Highness Prince Yilkyes Bala Finok Tonglele PhD State Crown Prince’. He even carried an identity card claiming to be ‘prince of princes’ in the Nigerian Plateau State Council of Chiefs. Investigators found he did not inherit the honour, but he claimed it was bestowed on him later in life, and they have been unable to disprove this.
Bala travelled to Britain in the early 1980s before studying administration at Greenwich School of Management as part of a philosophy doctorate. He already claimed to have a degree from the now-defunct Clayton University, in Missouri, U.S., long suspected as a ‘buy-a-degree’ college. He went on to set up a network of companies and claimed that at one stage they employed 900 people across Europe, Asia and Africa. The core business was supplying security guards to the construction industry, including one firm based in Knightsbridge, Central London.
His companies, which included Golden Shield and Mayfair and Knightsbridge Guarding, also provided alarm monitoring, VIP bodyguards and uniformed guards for offices.
Within two decades Bala, a father of six, was living in a £1.3million home in leafy Beckenham, South East London. He joined the Croydon branch of the Masons and sent his daughters to fee-paying Blackheath High School.
But a huge investigation, which Bala claimed cost up to £10 million, unravelled his empire and exposed him as a ruthless conman. Officials discovered a corrupt Home Office employee based in Croydon had improperly obtained more than 200 refugee passports. In genuine cases they are used as travel documents for those claiming asylum in Britain, often fleeing religious or political persecution. But the official was illicitly applying for them in the name of non-existent relatives of genuine refugees.
At least 91 documents were posted to addresses linked to Bala, who ran the Armour Group chain of companies with offices across the capital. They were then used as the foundation for applications to remain in the UK as he and his accomplices ran rings around immigration officials.
Those linked to Bala used every trick in the book to beat border controls, from urgent medical visas to travelling as domestic servants. Some were so shameless that they changed their names by deed poll back to their original identities within weeks of adopting the persona of a non-existent refugee. Among those given false identities so they could remain in Britain were Bala’s second wife and his brother.
After his arrest, Bala boasted to officials that he was allowed up to seven wives, ‘and a few more on the side’. Investigators found his home stuffed with paperwork linked to his businesses, with documents in his garage filling two vans alone.Because of the complex web of his businesses it took the Home Office two years to prepare the case against him.
The illegal immigrants caused chaos in Government systems once they had obtained their new identities. One man was uncovered by his fingerprints when he was caught drink driving on two occasions, first under his real name and then in a false one. In some cases, illegal immigrants had already failed to gain citizenship under one name so simply adopted a new identity to try again.
Official company minutes for Bala’s security companies recorded the same people attending meetings under different names.
Bala’s second wife Giwo Tonglele, 46, was also convicted of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry of persons into the UK and was jailed for five years. Their former employee Casmir Ekwuhga, 42, was jailed for four years for taking part in the conspiracy, holding a refugee passport illegally and using it to obtain a driving licence fraudulently.
Jailing them, Judge Heather Norton said the scam was well organised.
She said: ‘These documents were created to order. Each one of you was involved in deceiving the immigration authorities. You were at the hub of the whole enterprise.
‘The motive was simple.It was to provide identities for employees, relatives and friends. It was a significant conspiracy.’
More than 100 illegal immigrants linked to the scam have been arrested, but only a small number are believed to have been convicted and deported.
David Fairclough, of the Home Office, said Bala was brought to justice after a ‘long, complex and painstaking investigation’ and said the case should serve as a warning to others.