Abolaji Onafuye claimed to be the brother of Zainab Deen who died with her son Father of-five was put up at a top London hotel and racked up bill of over £35k The 54-year-old said he must have been ‘hallucinating’ when he made his claims He posted photos on Facebook posing with Harrods purchases and sports cars
Nigerian father of-five Abolaji Onafuye, 54, claimed Zainab Deen, 32, who perished in the blaze was his sister and he was sharing a flat with her. The serial conman who clamed he was ‘a model for the community’ was put up at one of London’s top hotels and racked up a total bill of more than £35,000. After he claimed thousands of pounds from taxpayers Onafuye posted dozens of photographs of himself shopping at Harrods on his social media profile. He grinned as he posed with large purchases made at the high-end Knightsbridge store and boasted of enjoying holidays and trips in sports cars. In one image posted on Facebook he smirked as he held up a pair of £245 slippers. Onafuye later admitted he was not staying at the tower block and said he must have been ‘hallucinating’ when he claimed he was.
He then said he was still due compensation because he had seen people screaming for help in the burning building. But his cell site evidence from his phone showed he was nowhere near he scene. Local taxpayers in Kensington and Chelsea footed the £23,500 bill for Onafuye’s stay at the four-star Grosvenor Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road. Onafuye received another £13,000 in living costs after he was moved to a flat in Hammersmith – where two bedroom apartments can cost up to £500,000.
Giving evidence he claimed he was hallucinating when he told police he lived there.
’I was temporarily insane because I was fasting when I was arrested,’ he said.
But a jury at Isleworth Crown Court convicted Onafuye of two counts of fraud by false representation between 21 June last year and 7 June this year.
The court heard that he has been in custody since he was arrested on June 7 of this year.
Onafuye sacked his defence barrister Deshpal Panesar at the beginning of today’s sentencing proceedings at Isleworth Crown Court.
He requested another defence barrister on legal aid but his request was refused by the judge.
The court heard that Panesar was Onafuye’s second defence barrister, his first having declared ‘professional embarrassment’ at a pre-trial hearing.
The judge ruled that Onafuye represent himself in mitigation. Ben Holt, prosecuting, said: ‘We do say that he had spent some time in the area of the fire after the fire.
He could not have plucked those names out of thin air.’ Onafuye maintained that it was not a fraud that was sustained over a length of time. But Judge Giles Curtis Raleigh said: ‘This was not opportunisic there is evidence that you were in the area for a considerable length of time.’ The judge said: ‘I accept the prosecution figure of £33,000 – which I take to be a conservative estimate.’ The court heard that Onafuye had previous convictions for fraud. He used a stolen Northern Rock Building society pass book to attempt to transfer £10,000 into a computer company account to obtain equipment on June 10 1995. Onafuye was also convicted of pretending to be an estate agent with properties to rent on January 12 2012. He said: ‘He took the deposits and people lost their money there were two counts for two victims.’ In an impact statement Zainab Deen’s father Zainu Deen said Onafuye’s claims created issues between him and Zainab’s mother. He said: ‘It brought up issues and possible mistrust and concerns between my wife and I.’ He told the court that his wife, who does not speak English, visited England for four weeks after their daughter died. ’The police needed to take a statement from her too about this man and it took up a full day of her visit as she needed an interpreter,’ he said. ’I can’t believe that anyone would use these tragic events to their benefit. ’I am angry, cross, confused and incredibly frustrated. ’These men have made our pain worse, much worse.’ Onafuye told the court: ‘I did not say to anybody that I am her brother. ’I did not mean to cause anybody any distress.’
In personal mitigation, Onafuye told the court: ‘My mother who is nearly 80 years old depends on me financially and morally. ’Although I have previous convictions I don’t want you to look at that I want you to look to what I have achieved since then.’ He told the court that he had studied law in Nigeria and had even completed a masters degree. The fraudster told the court:’I have been a role model for the community.’ Judge Raleigh told the defendant: ‘Hypocritically you pretended to cry when police interviewed you.
‘You denounced the genuine victims of flat 84 in Grenfell Tower. ’And you have continued the lies up to and throughout this trial. ’In the trial you sought to blame the police and even the sought to blame the very people who assisted you and were in the business of assisting the genuine victims of the fire. ’You have shown not a shred of remorse throughout these proceedings.’ The judge jailed him for five years. On June 21 of last year the Grenfell fraudster attended the Westway support centre and told volunteer, Rica Smirk he was staying in Flat 84.
He filled out a Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea assessment form with the help of the volunteer. Onafuye said Ms Deen was his sister and her two year old son Jeremiah was his nephew. But when he was arrested for fraud he told police: ‘When I was saying I lived in Grenfell Tower in my police interview I was not in the right frame of mind. It was a hallucination.’ Onafuye said the council officers must have incorrectly filled in the forms he handed in. In court he insisted the cell site evidence which showed he was nowhere near the flats must have been incorrect. ’I am sorry for the families it happened but something happened to me too,’ he said. ’I suffered mental trauma. I suffered. Why do you think that I hadn’t finished my university course. I suffered a depressive collapse.’ Asked whether he had seen a doctor about this, Onafuye replied ‘No.’ The court also heard how Onafuye had registered his NatWest bank account to the address. But he blamed a mistake by the bank because ‘there was no motive, not rationale to do this.’
14 people have now been convicted of fraud over the Grenfell Fire disaster. Sharife Elouahbi The 38-year-old, claimed to be living with a family of five on the 21st floor of the west London apartment block. He was given £300 a week in food expenses and was put up in three different hotels, which were funded by the Grenfell disaster fund, before getting kicked out of two for breaking the rules. The career criminal had 28 previous convictions, including stealing pictures of singer Will Young in drag to sell them to the press, robbery and assault. Elouahbi was due to receive further resettlement payments worth another £14,730 towards a flat and free utilities before he was caught by police. He was jailed for six years at Isleworth Crown Court after becoming the thirteenth person to be convicted of ‘Grenfell fraud’ and the person to steal the most from the fund set up to support victims of the fire that killed 72 people last June. Abolaji Onafuye The Nigerian father-of-five claimed Zainab Deen, 32, who perished in the blaze was his sister and he was sharing a flat with her. He was put up at one of London’s top hotels and racked up a total bill of more than £35,000. Onafuye later admitted he was not staying at the tower block and said he must have been ‘hallucinating’ when he claimed he was. Local taxpayers in Kensington and Chelsea footed the £23,500 bill for Onafuye’s stay at the four-star Grosvenor Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road. Onafuye received another £13,000 in living costs after he was moved to a flat in Gorleston Street, Hammersmith – where two bedroom apartments can cost up to £500,000. A jury at Isleworth Crown Court convicted Onafuye of two counts of fraud by false representation between 21 June last year and 7 June this year. Koffi Kouakou This west Londoner lied about his girlfriend dying in the Grenfell tragedy to swindle the council out of thousands of pounds meant for real survivors. 53-year-old Koffi Kouakou of Westfield Close, Coleridge Gardens claimed he had been living in the tower with his girlfriend, an occupant who died in the tragic fire. Following his claimed Kensington and Chelsea Council put him up in a hotel for two months before re-homing him in council accommodation. The council spent more than £30,000 on accommodation for Kouakou who was found to be lying following a Metropolitan Police investigation. Police confirmed Kouakou had not been living in Grenfell Tower and that he had not been in a relationship with the woman. He pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Isleworth Crown Court on October 17 and was jailed for four years. Mohammed Syed Rinku Illegal immigrant Mohammed Syed Rinku, claimed he was in a relationship with a Grenfell Tower Fire victim to try and stay in the country. The 46-year-old applied to stay in the UK and received more than £5,000 in support while his claims were investigated. He was found to be lying to try and stay in the country and charged with fraud as well as being ordered to pay back £4,044.36. Rinku, who is of no fixed address, was jailed for 18 months at Isleworth Crown Court on October 9. Abdelkarim Rekaya The 28-year-old conned Kensington and Chelsea Council out of more than £80,000 in financial support after claiming he was a Grenfell Tower resident and had been made homeless by the tragic fire on June 17 last year. He was re-homed at an address in Lots Road, Fulham where he lived rent free and without paying bills until July 1, 2018 when enquiries found his story was false and that he had never lived in Grenfell Tower. He pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and obtaining leave to remain by deception at Isleworth Crown Court on September 21. Rekaya, of Lots Road, has been remanded to be sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court on November 27. Jenny McDonagh Last month the former Kensington and Chelsea Council finance minister admitted to stealing more than £60,000 meant for Grenfell Tower victims. The 39-year-old took the money meant for survivors using pre-paid credit cards, despite having no personal connection to the tragedy, which she used to fund trips to Dubai and Los Angeles, expensive dinners and online gambling. She was charged with two counts of fraud by abuse of position, one count of theft by an employee and one count of money laundering. McDonagh who was described in court as a ‘serial fraudster’ who ‘lived beyond her means’ has been bailed and a sentencing date has yet to be set. She was jailed for five and a half years on September 28. Derrick Peters Homeless Derrick Peters, 58, lied about living in Grenfell Tower to get a shorter sentence for burglary. He was put behind bars after falsely telling a judge he had lost all his belongings in the blaze. His lies meant he put up in free four-star hotel accommodation worth £38,784, courtesy of Kensington and Chelsea Council . Now Peters, who pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and perverting the course of justice will spend the next six years in jail. This includes a three year and four month sentence for two counts of fraud by false representation, 20 months for one count of perverting the course of justice and 12 months after being resentenced for previous count of burglary – all to be be served consecutively. Tommy Brooks and Elaine Douglas Tommy Brooks, 52, and Elaine Douglas, 51, were described as ‘parasitic’ after they claimed to be victims of the devastating fire in order to freeload a combined £125,000 in financial support. The duo claimed they had lived on the 19th floor of the building but they had been staying with friends the night of the tragedy. Douglas had claimed £67,125.35 and Brooks had received £58,396.89 in financial support after the fire as well as free hotel accommodation by the time their fraud was discovered by the authorities. They were sentenced at the same court on July 13, with Douglas receiving three years imprisonment and Brooks receiving three years and three months. Mohammed Gammota Gammota pretended his dad died in the fire to get hundreds of pounds in cash and a free hotel stay, where he racked up a large room service bill. The 31-year-old was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to two fraud charges in June this year. He claimed he had been living on the 24th floor of the tower with his dad, who he pretended had died in the devastating fire. In reality he was living with his mum in Croydon and his dad was living abroad. To make his fraud more convincing, Gamoota researched a newspaper article about one of the 71 real victims of the fire, and used their name and details – pretending they were his dad – to make his claims for free hotel accommodation and cash sound more convincing. He also made Internet searches using the words ‘Grenfell Tower Fraud’. Gamoota was able to receive £500 in cash, although he had applied for £5,000 and he received £910 worth of free hotel accommodation over nine days, and a £354 room service bill. He was sentenced to three years and two month’s imprisonment at the court. Antonio Gouveia Antonio Gouveia fraudulently claimed more than £50,000 after pretending to be a victim of the Grenfell Tower disaster. The 33-year-old homeless man came forward days after the disaster, claiming to have lived in Flat 42 on the seventh floor of the tower. Gouveia claimed nine months free accommodation at a Marble Arch hotel, worth £155 a night, as well as £260 in emergency cash, a £249.99 Google Chromebook laptop. His hotel stay alone was worth a total of £53,456.76. The cash and hotel accommodation were given to him after he turned up at Westway Centre, a hub for the emergency efforts at the time of the fire. The ‘disgusting’ fraudster was jailed for three years at Isleworth Crown Court on 6 September. Joyce Msokeri Posed as the widow of a fire victim to claim accommodation and goods worth £19,000. The 47-year- old Londoner filled her free room at Kensington’s Hilton hotel with donated items including handbags and dresses. When officials began to suspect she was lying, she told them she had just found out her husband had in fact survived and had been living in a cave in Margate, Kent, where he was fed by tourists. In April, she was jailed for four-and-a-half years. Yonatan Eyob The 26-year-old nabbed £87,000 worth of cash and hotel accommodation after claiming he had lodged in a flat where a family of five died. It is the largest sum scammed by any single Grenfell fraudster. CCTV footage proved Eyob had never actually been in the block, and when cops raided the Hilton hotel room he had been given, they found a stash of MDMA and cocaine. It lead to him being convicted of drug offences in addition to fraud. He was jailed for a total of six years and eight months on September 7. Anh Nhu Nguyen The 53-year-old was the first fraudster caught for falsely claiming he had lived in the tower. He said he had lost his wife and son in the blaze – giving an elaborate account of his dramatic escape to Sky News. The con artist, of Beckenham, South East London, was even comforted by Prince Charles at a meeting with victims. He collected nearly £12,500 from charitable and council funds before being rumbled after giving multiple different flat numbers as his address. Nguyen was jailed for 21 months after admitting fraud in February 2018.