Published: Thursday, 22nd November 2018

A Plumstead man has been jailed for failing to attend court after pretending to be a student to escape paying Council Tax.

Emmanuel Okonji, 44, of Waverley Road, falsely claimed in 2015 to be studying full time at EThames Graduate School in Ilford, with a forged student certificate.

He was one of 15 suspects summonsed to Bexley Magistrates Court on 8 May 2017 where he attended before his case was referred to the crown court along with eight other defendants.

Mr Okonji did not appear at court later in July, and a warrant was issued leading to his arrest at Glasgow Airport on 8 October while attempting to board a flight to Austria.

The next day at Woolwich Crown Court he told Judge Raynor that he lived and worked in Austria and was not the man who had made a fraudulent Council Tax exemption claim, nor was he the person who failed to appear at court in July 2017.

The court heard that Mr Okonji had an address in Northfleet and was claiming benefit there with his Austrian passport used as proof of identity. He was remanded in custody pending a pre-trial hearing.

On 8 November 2018 Mr Okonji made a bail application which was refused by Judge Raynor saying that he had not provided proof from Austria of his residence during the period when he failed to attend court, while proof from his employer in Austria would have been sufficient to satisfy him that his story was true.

Turning to the matter of the fraud, the judge said a three-day trial would be set for March 2019. Mr Okonji’s barrister asked for time to speak to her client, which was granted, and an hour later Mr Okonji pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation.

Mr Okonji was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay costs of £1,200. He was also sentenced to six weeks imprisonment for the Bail Act offence of failing to attend a court appearance.

Cllr Christine Grice, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, said: “We will not hesitate to take action against people defrauding the Royal Borough of vital Council Tax funding for local public services.”

If you suspect someone of committing fraud please call 0800 169 6975 or email fraud@royalgreenwich.gov.uk. Any information you give will be treated in confidence.