Third party insurance scammers reap $15m
Multimillion-dollar third party insurance fraud rings have seen dozens of refugees face the courts, whole families involved and both a mastermind and a mother-of-four jailed.
Iraqi Thamer Ari is set to be deported, along with his wife and eight children, after he was jailed for staging crashes - including one involving a minibus full of 12 refugees he met as an asylum seeker on Christmas Island in 2013.
On Wednesday in Downing Centre Local Court, Fatemeh Malekizade, 45, was jailed for 18 months, in front of her four crying children, after she feigned serious injuries in a staged car crash. She had pretended she was so badly hurt she had to be cut from the car.
They are two of 31 people alleged to have orchestrated fraud worth $15 million who have already been arrested by Strike Force Ravens.
Police began investigating an upsurge in dodgy car accidents after the State Insurance Regulatory Authority noticed a spike in third party claims in August 2016.
The courts have been told the CTP insurance stings cost honest motorists about $400 million a year and added $75 to Green Slips.
The scams also made it harder for people to lodge genuine claims by raising the bar, Magistrate Erin Kennedy said before sentencing Malekizade this week.
Malekizade, a divorced Iranian woman who received $205,000 CTP compensation which has not been repaid, was granted bail to arrange for her two youngest children to be looked after before serving her minimum 12-month sentence.
One man yet to face trial allegedly set himself up as an "unofficial CTP case officer" within the Middle Eastern community in Sydney's southwest and made more than $3,355,000 for himself from 41 staged accidents.
Another, Mohammad Lawabnih, was alleged in a police statement of facts tendered to court this week to be a ringleader in another syndicate and had "extensive ties with plaintiff lawyers, doctors and others which he uses to facilitate fraudulent and embellished insurance claims among other things".
Another syndicate involves Bankstown Physiotherapy Rehab Centre director Mohammad Edelbi, 35, who pleaded guilty in the District Court to 36 charges of issuing false invoices for treatment and to being a member of a criminal group. Edelbi, of Croydon Park, is awaiting sentence.
A former director of the centre - Mohammad Sallam, 34, of Auburn - has pleaded not guilty to any involvement in the scams and is awaiting trial.
Financial Crimes Squad commander Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett said Strike Force Ravens had been targeting syndicates for more than three years.
"Detectives have spent hundreds of hours meticulously examining claim forms and other documentation to put those involved in facilitating, submitting and participating in fraudulent CTP insurance claims before the court," Supt Howlett said.
An Iranian husband and wife and three children, aged 15, 10 and seven months, who had been with Ari on Christmas Island, were among 12 passengers on a Thrifty minibus which "crashed" with a Toyota Kluger, after the bus driver said he was startled by a spider on his hand, in Liverpool on May 7, 2015.
Every person on the bus claimed to be injured, despite minor damage, and lodged CTP claims totalling $1.2 million, which were not paid.
On May 30, 2015, Ari staged another crash, driving his own Toyota with eight Iraqi refugees from Christmas Island, including a husband and wife, inside. He claimed he was startled by a spider while driving the passengers to a wedding.
The statement of facts tendered to the court in Malekizade's case revealed she was involved in a separate syndicate allegedly involving Lawabnih, Mohammad Sallam, Monireh Asadi and Sami Alshaer. A fifth man has become a prosecution witness.
The police facts said Lawabnih, related through marriage to Malekizade, had used a man who "specialised" in staging car crashes to set up an accident at Strathfield in July 2015. He sped into a vehicle owned by Asadi's husband, Arman Eren, forcing it into a pole.
Then the participants, including Malekizade, got into the cars and feigned injuries.
"You may not have organised it but you were the linchpin," Magistrate Kennedy said.
Lawabnih is due to face trial on April 21 with co-accused Monireh Asadi. Both have pleaded not guilty. Alshaer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 10-month intensive corrections order and 100 hours community service.
Through another syndicate, Israeli national Diane Fleifel, 63, from Ryde, staged a car crash in May 2018. Captured on CCTV, the "crash" had to be staged twice after an innocent car came along.
She pleaded guilty in Burwood Local Court to attempting to obtain financial advantage through the $16,027 claim for her Mercedes and was sentenced to 200 hours community service.
In December, Ari, his wife Alaa Ari and their eight children, three of them born in Australia, lost their fight to stay in Australia. It is not known if they have yet been deported.