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Three arrested in alleged immigration and benefits fraud scheme Add to ...

Three people have been arrested in a massive fraud scam that allegedly helped several hundred people obtain Canadian citizenship illegally and reap thousands in government benefits, according to the RCMP.

The alleged plot, as police describe it, sounds simple. A man acting as an immigration consultant filed citizenship and permanent-residency applications for applicants who weren't even living in Canada. The applicants were given addresses that were merely fronts to help them meet the Canadian residency requirements. The addresses, as many as 29 properties that were mainly leased in the Mississauga area, were used to receive tax refunds, GST rebates and child benefit cheques. Someone would go around to the properties, collect the mail and then forward the cheques to the other conspirators, police said. The scheme allegedly defrauded the Canadian government of $500,000.

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RCMP spokesman Sergeant Marc Laporte said as far as he knows the 2 1/2-year investigation, which looked into 320 immigration applicants, is the largest of its kind in Canada.

"It's the only investigation that ties in the two sides of the offence - committing offences against the immigration process by submitting those false applications, and they're pushing it even further by defrauding the federal government with fraudulent tax claims," Sgt. Laporte said.

The police probe stretched back through 10 years of citizenship applications, from 1999 to 2008. At least 260 people who are either Canadian citizens or citizenship applicants could face further criminal investigation, Sgt. Laporte said, now that the broader conspiracy has entered the court process. He said those 260 people are not living in Canada but are mostly in the Middle East, though he couldn't specify which countries. Some may also be Canadian passport holders.

"If any of these people are referred to us as being in the country by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, we will definitely look into criminal charges," Sgt. Laporte said.

Ahmad El-Akhal, a 62-year-old man from Quebec, faces 58 charges, including criminal charges of forgery, fraud and conspiracy. He and his wife, 53-year-old Tahani Mohamad Hassan El-Akhal, are also jointly charged with possession of the proceeds of crime. They were arrested Thursday morning. When their home in Île-Bizard was raided, police seized stacks of cash that amounted to $155,000 in Canadian currency.

A few hours later, the RCMP arrested Hussam Hassan Ali Saif, 44, in Mississauga. Mr. Saif is alleged to have leased properties that could be used as mailing addresses, according to police. He faces one charge of criminal conspiracy and three charges under the Citizenship Act for aiding or abetting false representation, fraud and concealing material circumstances.

The three accused are scheduled to appear Friday in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom.

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