Former Fulbright lawyer jailed for 16 months over expenses fraud

A former Fulbright & Jaworski partner and his office manager wife have been handed 16 month jail terms after pleading guilty to false accounting and fraud.

Graham Simkin and his wife Zakia Sharif, who both worked at the US firm’s London base, admitted falsely claiming for vacations, dinners and cosmetic treatments as business expenses and were sentenced to 16 months each at the City of London Magistrates Court (12 January 2012).

Simkin resigned in September 2008, and Sharif, the director of administration, was dismissed in the same year. They admitted claiming as much as £100,000 in expenses, including luxury items, designer stationery, electrical goods and holidays. Sharif also claimed for a memorabilia photograph of Muhammed Ali.

Simkin admitted privately billing clients and claiming hospitality worth £100,000 for people he never actually wined and dined. He was struck off the Solicitors Regulation Authority register in July 2011.

She lied about having two law degrees from King’s College, London, in order to get a £50,000-a-year job and has now been barred from working as a legal executive.

The couple worked for Fulbright between 2004 and 2008.

Simkin pleaded guilty to three counts of false accounting and one count of fraud by abuse of position. Sharif pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, three counts of false accounting and one count of fraud by false representation.

A spokesman for Fulbright said the firm did not know Simkin and Sharif were married and that no system could be “failsafe” if its enforcers were dishonest. They said no clients lost out.

Sue Patten, head of the CPS central fraud group, said: “Zakia Sharif not only financially abused her role as the director of administration at the law firm where she worked, but she acquired her post by deception in the first place. Having lied about her qualifications on her CV, Zakia Sharif went on to dishonestly claim in excess of £100,000 from her employers.  

“Sharif also claimed for trips abroad with partner of the firm Graham Simkin. What no one at the firm knew was that in 2007 Sharif married Simkin, and was therefore claiming for what were holidays with her husband.

“Fraud is always a serious offence. But abusing a position of trust in this way makes it particularly serious.”