NRI woman sailed the world with boyfriend while claiming disability allowance

February 25th, 2009 - 4:39 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Feb 25 (IANS) An Indian-origin woman faces jail along with her partner after sailing around the world in a 100,000 pound yacht while claiming government aid meant for the disabled and jobless.
Shashi Bacheta, 52, and Jeffrey Coles, 58, spent nearly two years sailing around the world on the 70ft vessel, living off the proceeds from their post office and property businesses.

At the same time they defrauded the government of a range of allowances meant for the severely ill.

Bacheta claimed she was so ill she could not get out of bed - entitling her to the government’s ‘disability living allowance’ as well as unemployment benefit - when in fact she was scuba diving off the Kenyan coast.

By the end of the sailing trip the mother of one had claimed nearly 50,000 pounds in housing benefits, disability living allowances, local ‘council tax’ relief and income support.

Partner Coles helped her to obtain an extra 12,000 pounds in a benefit scam that ran from 2002 to 2008.

The benefit scam came to light in 2007 after a retired policewoman and her husband, who were also sailing around the world, came across Bacheta and Coles in the Canary Islands.

Months later, a fraud investigator, found references to Bacheta and Coles on an internet blog being written by the policewoman and her husband.

Investigator Jeff Fish said: “We also downloaded a picture of them at the couple’s yacht on Gran Canaria with Shashi Bacheta looking quite well.

“We later carried out a search of their home and found PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructor) records relating to Bacheta scuba diving off Mombasa, Kenya.

“We also found they had been in their yacht off the coast of South Africa.”

They were arrested in January 2008.

Bacheta and Coles, who were due to begin a 15-day trial Monday, changed their pleas at the last minute to guilty to a variety of benefit fraud charges, and were granted bail.

Judge Huw Davies postponed sentencing until next month, but warned the couple they faced jail sentences.

Bacheta’s 28-year-old daughter, Anju, had already pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming to be her mother’s full-time carer.

Melanie Surridge, a government official dealing with the case, said: “It was quite staggering. This lady, while claiming to be bedridden, was in fact regularly able to go scuba diving from her boyfriend’s yacht.”

Tal Davies, the investigations manager at Swansea council, said: “They were stealing from all those people who pay their taxes to help provide important public services. It was an affront to those who can’t afford the lifestyle they had been enjoying.”

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