Ontario man accused of targeting 'most vulnerable members of the globe' with Syrian refugee scam

As It Happens speaks with Det. Const. Jon Williams of the Halton Police Service who has been handling the case.

Halton Regional Police charge Bashar Abdulahad, 49, with 8 counts of fraud over $5,000 and money laundering

Syrian refugees hold Canadian flags as they take part in a welcome service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Toronto in this 2015 file photo. An Ontario man has been accused of scamming Syrian refugees hoping to come to Canada. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)
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A Burlington, Ont., man charged with with fraud and money laundering targeted refugees who were "desperate to not be sent back to Syria," says the detective handling the case.

On Wednesday, Halton Regional Police Service charged Burlington's Bashar Abdulahad, 49, with eight counts of fraud over $5,000 and money laundering. 

Police say eight Syrian refugee families hoping to come to Canada were defrauded in a scam worth more than $200,000.

Not only are they out of an opportunity to come to Canada, but they're out a significant sum of money as well.- Det. Const. Jon Williams

"The accused in this matter has targeted the most vulnerable members of the globe," Det.-Const. Jon Williams told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Williams started investigating the case after a tip from a private citizen in Toronto. 

The families living in Qatar all appear to have come from the same area of Syria. The accused is believed to have initiated contact with them through a third party, he said.

"It seems that he used friends of his over in Qatar to introduce himself to various, desperate Syrian families ... as someone who could provide a co-sponsorship through a church here in Burlington for them to become refugees in Canada. That's how it all began," he said.

"The arrangement that would be made would be that they would, in his words ... 'front the costs' for the refugee sponsorship and wire him the money. Then, through fundraising that he would do with the church, he would reimburse them upon their arrival in Canada."

The Burlington church is real, but has no involvement in the alleged fraud, Williams said. 

The charges come after a three-month long investigation by the Halton Regional Police Service Fraud Unit. (Halton Regional police)

In total, Williams said the victims paid around $230,000 to the accused, believing it would get them to Canada.

Williams said the families trusted the accused out of "sheer desperation."

"They're very educated people having spoken to them, so it wasn't a lack of education or a simple-mindedness on their part," he said.  

The majority of the victims were working as engineers. However, "most of them, if not all, had to borrow the various sums of money from lenders to send to him," Williams said.

"Now, not only are they out of an opportunity to come to Canada, but they're out a significant sum of money as well." 

Williams believes there are potentially dozens more families who got caught up in the alleged scam.

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