Mohammed Umar Ashrafi, who posed as a spiritual healer with a direct line to Sai Baba, was on Wednesday found guilty of fraud and blackmail, and sentenced to nine years in jail after a widely-followed trial hailed by rationalists in Britain.
It is the first case of its kind involving a ‘faith healer’ who conned vulnerable people in the Indian and Asian communities of more than a million pounds. Ashrafi, 50, who also called himself ‘Kamal-ji’, operated mainly in Leicester, London and Canada.
The Leicester Crown Court found Ashrafi, an Indian citizen, guilty of 15 counts of fraud and one count of blackmail.
Sachdev Virdee, general secretary of the Birmingham-based Asian Rationalist Society of Britain, told HT that the judgement was a welcome advancement in its efforts to raise awareness of the fraudulent ways in which such ‘babas’ operate among the vulnerable.
“But it is a tip of the iceberg. There are many more such ‘babas’ who operate, conning many people of their savings after promising them lottery wins, love, better health or luck”, Virdee said.
In Ashrafi’s case, the Leicester police had launched an investigation in April 2014 after a victim disclosed how Ashrafi had posed as ‘Kamal-ji’, a devotee of Sai Baba, and claimed he could rid them of their problems.
During the investigation a number of victims were found to have been duped by Ashrafi after they enlisted his services and handed over large amounts of cash.
The court heard how Ashrafi used various items such as audio recordings of a voice claiming to be Sai Baba to gain the victims’ confidence and trust before taking tens of thousands of pounds from them.
Detective Inspector Mark Hopkins said: “Ashrafi played on the victims insecurities and gained their trust before duping them out of large amounts of money, the true value of his offences is not known but it’s believed it may have exceeded half a million pounds”.
Speaking after the conviction, a victim who was duped out of more than 60,000 pounds by Ashrafi, said: “Words can’t describe how this incident has made me feel, the whole ordeal has completely taken over and destroyed my life.
“Ashrafi came into my life when I was suffering from ill-health and took advantage of my vulnerability. When I look back now I feel intimidated and abused, the way he manipulated me and my family with such ease, makes me feel sick”.