How an Afghan-Canadian refugee defrauded asylum seekers from Afghanistan out of $ 1 million – and their hopes

Sakia Mojadiddi’s victims tell heartbreaking stories of losing their life savings, being forced into more danger, no less, and in one case ending up homeless

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Like so many others before and after her, Sakia Mojadiddi arrived in Canada 32 years ago, pursued by a tragic past.

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Most of her family had been missing by Soviet troops occupying her native Afghanistan, a brother executed by pro-USSR government forces before her eyes.

But like all the others, Mojadiddi had the opportunity to start over in this country to create “fabric for a rags-to-riches novel,” a Ontario judge commented earlier this year.

And it seemed like she had achieved something similar to the dream of launching a non-profit organization to help Afghan refugees stuck in other countries. Her profile rose, and both Hazel McCallion, then mayor of Mississauga, and liberal politician Omar Alghabra – now the federal transport minister – appeared in photographs next to Mojadiddi at an event promoting the outfit.

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It was all a list. Instead of helping his fellow Afghans, the former refugee defrauded close to 50 families out of over $ 1 million – and charged fees to help stranded relatives immigrate to Canada and did nothing with the money except deposit it in his own bank accounts. .

Her victims tell heartbreaking stories of losing their life savings, being forced out into more danger, no less, and in one case ending up homeless.

It is also a tragedy, a tragic story on her part

The 65-year-old was eventually arrested, and this month the Ontario Court of Appeals rejected Mojadiddi’s challenge of three and a half years in prison and $ 1 million in fines and restitution handed down after she pleaded guilty to fraud. If anything, the punishment was too lenient for her “gross” offense, the court said.

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The whole story of the woman’s confusing crime emerges as many Afghans again struggle to leave the country, this time for fear of a brutal Taliban regime.

“Following her dire situation in Afghanistan and her arrival in Canada, the narrative one would expect to hear is that Mrs Mojadiddi started a new life preoccupied with economic, humanitarian and philanthropic achievement,” Judge Paul O’Marra said when she judged her. earlier this year. “This case is more about broken promises and shattered dreams caused by Mrs Mojadiddi’s fraudulent, sinister and greedy actions.”

Three of her adult daughters were also arrested in the case, but it appears these charges have been withdrawn, said attorney Dan Stein, who represented the mother at the appellate court.

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Regional police Peel, who conducted the investigation, said it could not confirm what happened to the daughters’ charges. The Crown’s lawyer, who argued for the appeal, could not be reached for comment.

Neither McCallion nor a spokesman for Alghabra could be reached for comment. Nor is there anything to suggest that one was aware of the woman’s criminal activities.

“I really do not know what drove her to that kind of thing,” Stein said of his client. “It’s also a tragedy, a tragic story on her part.”

By O’Marra’s decision, Mojadiddi arrived in Canada with her husband and three children in 1989. Most of her extended family had been reunited by the Soviets and never seen again; her brother was killed in front of her by soldiers from the USSR puppet Afghan government, the judge said.

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“These horrors have left her psychologically traumatized for the rest of her life,” O’Marra said.

By the end of the 2000s, she had built a reputation in the Peel region west of Toronto as a humanitarian, focusing on the many Afghans who had fled or attempted to flee the country during the Soviet occupation or the bloody civil war that broke out. afterwards.

All their hopes and dreams were shattered

Her group Afghan Refugee Relief (ARR) was founded in 2008 and registered as a charitable non-profit in 2010, with ads posted in Canada and other countries promising help in bringing relatives here.

The organization charged fees for filing applications and doing paperwork, but neither Mojadiddi nor any of her daughters were certified as immigration consultants. And in fact, no applications were ever filed for what is now called Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

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When clients complained, she insisted the process had been stopped by government bureaucracy or lawyers. If they kept going, she struck out, the verdict said. Mojadiddi “had the courage” to threaten to call the police on one person who wants to come to the ARR office to inquire about his family’s case.

A total of 47 victims – identified only by initials in the ruling – were billed for just over $ 1 million over 10 years.

They included a family that Mojadiddi asked to leave Afghanistan for Pakistan after paying her $ 15,000. They spent years there and struggled with high costs, lack of work and racism. When the father became ill, they wanted to take him elsewhere for medical treatment, but the consultant insisted that they stay in Pakistan because a letter from the Canadian consulate would arrive soon, according to a statement of impact from the victim, who is quoted in the decision.

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“The letter never came, and their father died,” O’Marra said. “When they discovered the scam, it was ‘overwhelmingly heartbreaking’ and they were ‘devastated’. . “

Other victims told of shame and deep depression when they found out they had been deceived while a family in India giving Mojadiddi their $ 50,000 in life savings was left homeless for a year. None of the refugees reached Canada.

The appeals court upheld the three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, but believed it could have been harsher.

“We do not want anything in these reasons to be interpreted as saying that such a low punishment is appropriate.”

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