Date of Judgment: 18 September 2020
Court: District Court of New South Wales
Partner Agency: National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)
Summary of charges:
The co-offenders were each sentenced to four years and six months of imprisonment. Alaedine Rifai received a non-parole period of three years. Amal Hilmi received a non-parole period of two years and nine months.
Both co-offenders pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy (with other persons) to dishonestly obtain a gain from a Commonwealth entity, contrary to section 135.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
The maximum penalty for such an offence is 10 years imprisonment.
The co-offenders were the originators and principal architects of a sophisticated conspiracy to defraud the National Disability Insurance Scheme, alongside four other alleged co-offenders.
Between October 2017 and May 2019, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) paid the co-conspirators at least $1,563,892.41 as a result of false payment requests that the co-offenders submitted against the support budgets afforded to persons participating in the Scheme, being those with a permanent and significant disability, under the age of 65.
The offenders made 88 false payment requests against the plans of 68 different persons with disabilities who had no association with any of the co-conspirators. They identified that they were able to view the details of support budgets extended to participants in the Scheme by randomly entering a combination of numbers into the website portal made available to service providers. The co-conspirators also realised that they could submit requests for payment against under-utilised support budgets that had expired within the preceding 90 days, in respect of which they coined the term ‘back-charging’, thereby reducing the risk of detection.
Despite the NDIA commencing a review of the co-conspirators’ businesses a year after their registration, the offenders continued the fraud by registering four new entities as service providers. Attempting to meet NDIA’s review, the co-conspirators tried to locate particular participants in the scheme, with whom they had no relationship, with a view to having them sign false documents to hide the fraud.
A complex National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Taskforce investigation involving the NDIA, the Department of Human Services and the AFP led to the arrest of the co-offenders on 22 May 2019. The Taskforce investigators continued to work closely with prosecutors throughout the process. The successful prosecution of this matter is testament to the strong collaboration between the Taskforce and the CDPP.
This matter is the first prosecution in New South Wales for fraud on the Federal Government’s NDIS. It resulted from an investigation by the NDIS Taskforce, which was formed for the purpose of investigating serious fraud against the NDIS.
It highlights the emergence of new, highly-organised groups of people systematically exploiting new government payments using digital technology.
The offending impacted and distressed NDIS participants and their carers, particularly when they were left with insufficient funds to purchase essential personal items. Some were unable to make genuine claims because the offenders had drawn monies from their plans. A Victim Impact Statement from one carer, who was unable to pay for her disabled son’s nappies, was read out in court during sentencing.
The offenders defrauded the Commonwealth to fund their purchases of luxury items such as Mercedes and Porsche motor vehicles, Rolex watches and jewellery, and real estate in Australia and overseas.
The court afforded the co-offenders a discount of 25% for their pleas of guilty at committal.
Both co-offenders were sentenced to imprisonment for four years and six months, with a non-parole period of three years for Alaedine Rifai, and a non-parole period of two years and nine months for Amal Hilmi.
The court found that the offenders’ conduct was grave indeed, motivated by greed and placed an additional burden on all taxpayers. There was no regard by the offenders to the harm that might be occasioned to the vulnerable people whom they purported to assist.
The sentencing judge acknowledged the distress felt by the offenders in custody while separated from their young son.