Couple to repay £13m meant for training Libyan pilots, after spending it on property deals

Tevfik and Sera Jane Sekerci were called 'dishonest' by a judge, who ordered them to return the money

A Libyan Airlines Airbus A320 taking off from Manchester Airport. Alamy
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A British couple who spent £13 million on property deals, money that was meant to train Libyan pilots, have been ordered to pay it back by a UK court.

Tevfik and Sera Jane Sekerci ran an education consultancy, Prime Education, which won a contract with Libya to provide training for up to 250 pilots, engineers and other specialists.

But they failed to deliver on their 2015 contract with the EACS, a state-owned Libya company with responsibility for aviation training for Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways, which was worth £16 million ($20.43 million) at the time.

Instead, Prime Education transferred about £11 million of the money to another company, PE Turkey, which Mr Sekerci owned jointly with a Turkish partner and of which he was a director, court documents show.

PE Turkey owns land on which buildings were built on two sites in the Bagcilar district of Istanbul, the judgment said.

Another interest-free loan of £448,847 was made to a company called York Property, a UK-based company they is listed at Companies House as persons of significant control.

But in December 2018, EACS demanded its money back, then went to court to secure repayment, claiming that the couple acted “dishonestly” in a “breach of trust by Prime Education”.

EACS alleged they “conspired and combined” with Prime Education, each other, PE Turkey and York Property to “use unlawful means, including the misappropriation of moneys with intent to defraud” them.

After a lengthy court battle the High Court in London has now ordered them to repay £13.2 million – the sum at today's prices.

EACS was represented by MS-Legal, whose principal partner, Mohamed Shaban said the “fledgling pilots and engineers were defrauded of almost the entirety of their training budget, rendering them unable to qualify and serve their country”.

Mr Shaban explained that the next stage was securing payment from the defendants because they are “likely to have dissipated much of our clients' assets”.

“While we are pleased to have achieved this result for the victims of the fraud, we are conscious of the enormous challenge of enforcing the judgment in multiple jurisdictions,” he said.

The couple claimed at an earlier hearing that an amendment to their contract permitted them to transfer cash to PE Turkey to invest in property while Mr Sekerci said he considered it “prudent” to do so.

But a judge dismissed this defence as fanciful.

They have now been ordered to pay back the cash by judge Naomi Ellenbogen, who said they put up a “hopeless and dishonest defence”.

She said “both Mr and Mrs Sekerci were untruthful in their protestations” and that in “their dealings as directors of Prime Education, each had acted dishonestly”.

Judge Ellenbogen also imposed an order freezing the defendants' assets on the basis that there is a “real risk” they could be put beyond reach.

The couple claimed in their defence that they obtained verbal permission from EASC’s chief executive at the time, Jamil Shubana, who had signed the deal, to transfer funds to PE Turkey. Mr Shubana was dismissed in 2016.

Updated: July 07, 2023, 12:06 PM