Former student escapes jail sentence in fraud trial

Elnar Askerov and Jerome Drean

Former York student Elnar Askerov and his accomplice have been sentenced to a suspended jail term and ordered to undertake 300 hours of community service each after attempting to defraud the University.

Judge Stephen Ashcroft, sentencing, described the case as “highly unusual” and “deeply offensive to thousands of dilligent students.” While noting the “degree of sophistication and planning [that] was involved,” Ashcroft referred to the guilty pleas of the defendants and their “public acknowledgment of guilt” as important factors when deliberating the sentence.

Ashcroft told the court he had “considered all options available” before delivering his sentence, which he described as “a proper way of marking this behaviour.

Askerov, 23, a former Economics and Finance undergraduate from Azerbijian, and his French accomplice Jerome Drean, 34, were warned by Ashcroft that any breach of the order, or additional misconduct would result in the imposition of a custodial sentence.

At the hearing, it was revealed by Robert Smith QC, representing Drean, that the former investment banker suffers from Asperger syndrome. Referencing medical diagnoses, Smith said that the condition had affected his client’s propensity to analyse his actions. Stating that he was “profoundly influenced by his disorder,” Smith said Drean was “driven to face the challenge of taking the examinations.”

Drean who previously held senior positions in the investment teams of Credit Suisse and Bank of America, and reportedly earned over $4,000,000 over three years, was also charged with two counts of possessing criminal assets totalling £20,000, paid to him by Askerov. Drean was also ordered to return this money within 56 days, with the threat of a 3-month custodial term.

Alexander Cameron, representing Askerov, stated that his client was “under pressure to achieve” from his family, and has issued an “unqualified apology to the University of York.” Cameron also said that Askerov, who has been living in London since the beginning of the trial, was “ready, willing and able to stay here.”

As reported by Nouse last month, the pair were found guilty of defrauding the University on Monday 21 January. Both men were arrested at the University on 11 May 2007, when Drean was caught impersonating Askerov in his final year exam. University of York Press Officer David Garner, commenting on the case, said “This was a sophisticated deception by a determined and unscrupulous individual. Such breaches of trust, though rare, are nevertheless a betrayal of the overwhelming majority of our students, both UK and international, who work hard to achieve a degree by legitimate means.”

“Askerov has already been dealt with under the University’s internal disciplinary regulations. He was sent down without a degree and disqualified from sitting it again. The University is conducting a detailed review of its procedures relating to the administration of examinations. This includes the investigation of the greater use of technology to eliminate fraud,” Garner added,

This case follows a similar, though unrelated offence by another York student, Qiu Shi Zhang and accomplice Xian Zhang. They were convicted and sentenced for fraud after being arrested at the same exam in May. The two Chinese students, who pleaded guilty to multiple fraud charges, were sentenced to 100 hours of community service each.

YUSU Societies and Communications Officer Sam Bayley released an official statement on the issue. “While the sentence handed out today wasn’t as strict as some expected, we still believe this sends a firm message out to potential cheats that this behaviour can’t be supported by our community. It does raise the question about why students cheat and the pressure candidates are under, and we would like to reiterate that students having problems with their degree should speak to their academic supervisor or YUSU academic and welfare services instead of resorting to such measures,” he said.

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