x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Hamza sons face prison for car theft

Family of radical Muslim cleric jailed in Britain admit their role in million-pound scam involving stolen luxury vehicles and money laundering.

LONDON // Three sons of a radical Muslim cleric, who is wanted on terrorism charges in Yemen and the United States, face joining their father in prison today. But the offences of the sons of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza have nothing to do with the violent Islamic fundamentalism preached by their father, who is already languishing in a British prison. Rather the three, all born in the UK, took part in a million-pound scam involving stolen luxury cars and spent the profits on drugs and parties.

While their father continued his fight against extradition to the United States, where he is accused of trying to establish an al Qa'eda training camp in Oregon, the three took part in a "sophisticated" car scam, Southwark Crown Court was told yesterday. They and four accomplices targeted expensive models such as BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers that were left in long-stay car parks by owners whom they knew were travelling abroad.

By exploiting a loophole in the UK's vehicle licensing laws, they applied for new registration documents in bogus names living at a "front" address in west London. When they received the documents, they would present them to dealers to obtain duplicate keys to get around the vehicles' sophisticated security systems. They then sold the cars, often to buyers in Europe or North Africa, or would use them as collateral for loans that they never repaid.

"This was a sophisticated, well-planned and professionally executed enterprise," Martin Bowyer, the prosecuting barrister, told the court. He said the police had identified 32 vehicles, with a value in excess of £1 million (Dh5.89m), that were stolen or used as loan collateral by the gang over a period of almost two years. Hamza's sons, Hamza Kamel, 22, and Mohamed Mostafa, 27, admitted fraud, handling stolen goods and money laundering at an earlier hearing. Mohssin Ghailam, 28, Hamza's stepson, had admitted conspiracy to defraud.

The judge, who will pass sentence today, was told that Kamel had a criminal record that included illegally possessing a weapon in 2003. His brother's previous convictions included serving an eight-week prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. While Ghailam had no criminal record in Britain, the court heard, both he and Mostafa had been convicted in Yemen for taking part in a bomb plot there, allegedly orchestrated by Abu Hamza.

Because of their father's record of inciting religious hatred and his connections to terrorist groups, police have investigated if any money from the stolen cars was used to sponsor terrorism. No links to any terrorists were discovered, one police source said. "These guys were using the money for themselves. Anti-terrorist police investigated the finances and there is no evidence at all this money was spent on terrorism. They just used the cash to party."

One of the other four men in the car ring also pleaded guilty to charges of possessing cocaine with the intent to sell. Defence lawyers pointed out to Judge Gregory Stone yesterday that the defendants had already spent 201 days in custody on remand. Ben Brandon, Mostafa's lawyer, argued that his client's conviction in Yemen was not relevant because there was "no suggestion" proceeds of the car scam were to be used for any terrorist group or activity.

He also said British authorities had concerns about the fairness of the trial, which resulted in Mostafa spending three years in prison and suffering psychological problems. Mr Brandon described Mostafa's role in the car ring as "very limited", saying he was not an organiser, planner or even a "lieutenant". Abu Hamza is currently in the high-security wing at Bellmarsh Prison in London where he is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a string of convictions including incitement to murder and fomenting racial hatred.

Hamza, 51, the former imam at a leading London mosque before being disqualified for his extremist views, is also continuing a long battle against extradition to the US. His case is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, describes Hamza's "vile rants" as one of the main reasons that the British public has become alienated from Muslims.

"British Muslims are growing impatient that he is still able to tarnish them with these remarks. He is not welcome at any mosque in the country and we have nothing to do with him," he said. Hamza, who lost both his hands and the use of an eye in Afghanistan in 1993 (either defusing old Russian landmines or in an accident during a bomb-making session at an al Qa'eda camp), has at least eight children. Another of his sons escaped a jail sentence last year after admitting to stealing a laptop.

dsapsted@thenational.ae