Melbourne, September 22: Two colleges — St Stephen Institute of Technology in Reservoir and Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education in Footscray run by Indian Australians – friends and entrepreneurs – Baljit Singh, Mukesh Sharma and Rakesh Kumar came under the government scanner in 2015. In August 2015, after raids across Melbourne, the authorities charged them with a series of offences, including relating to an alleged immigration racket involving Australia Post delivery drivers.
The police raids across Melbourne on August 5 2015 seized $8.5 million worth of assets, including a 2014 Ferrari, a 2015 Range Rover, six properties and $180,000 in cash.
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The three men faced charges of defrauding the Commonwealth and falsifying documents including police checks and student records, in relation to two training colleges and receiving $2,007,487 in subsidies from the Victorian government between March 2014 and July 2015 as a result.
And they failed to provide any genuine teaching or assessments to students who, in some cases never actually enrolled.
And three years later, the three men Baljit Singh, Mukesh Sharma and Rakesh Kumar along with a woman Rekha Arora, have been convicted and sentenced.
On September 21, the Victorian County Court convicted Mr Baljit Singh, Mr Rakesh Kumar, Mr Mukesh Sharma and Ms Rekha Arora of conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth and conspiracy to deal in the proceeds of crime.
The three men and the woman received prison sentences.
Baljit Singh will serve a total of six years, with a non-parole period of three years and nine months.
Rakesh Kumar and Mukesh Sharma will serve a total of five years, with a non-parole period of three years.
Rekha Arora was also sentenced to serve a total of three years in prison, but released immediately on a recognisance order with a $5,000 bond.
The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) as the national regulator for vocational education and training (VET) has welcomed the convictions.
All four have been convicted for their involvement in creating false student records and other documents.
ASQA Chief Commissioner Mark Paterson said the group presented fraudulent documents to ASQA in an attempt to achieve and maintain registration for their training organisations – St Stephen Institute of Technology and Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education.
Following the charges laid in 2015, ASQA suspended the registration of both training providers. The registration of St Stephen Institute of Technology Pty Ltd was cancelled by ASQA in November 2017. The registration of Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education Pty Ltd expired in 2016 and was not renewed.
“There is no place in Australia’s VET sector for companies and individuals who are not genuinely committed to providing high quality training and assessment that arms learners with the skills and experience that employers need and want,” Mr Paterson said.
During the sentencing, County Court Judge Michael O’Connell said prosecutors had described the schools as being a sham.
“These ($2,007,487) subsidies were being fraudulently claimed because students were not being properly taught, if at all,” Judge O’Connell said.