The High Court has torn up 21 divorce petitions that were engineered by a convicted fraudster and former barrister. Sir James Munby, president of the family division, said Khalik Bhatoo had been the architect of a fraud involving false addresses and forged signatures for petitions covering a nine-year period.
Bhatoo was convicted in 2003 before Kingston Magistrates Court of two offences of dishonesty for obtaining housing and council tax benefits. He was disbarred three years later after a disciplinary tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court found him guilty of three offences of professional misconduct.
In Grasso v Naik (twenty-one irregular divorces), Munby said the 21 petitions – six matters yet to reach decree, four where decree nisi was pronounced, and 11 where decress nisi and decree absolute had been pronounced – all claimed parties had lived at one of two neighbouring addresses in Southall, Middlesex. Both properties were owned by relatives of Bhatoo and the judge said it would appear none of the parties had ever lived there.
One petitioner had told police Bhatoo told her to put down the Southall addresses as her address as he would then be able to deal with the court and paperwork and would not need to keep bothering her.
Simon Murray, acting as Queen’s Proctor at a hearing last month, averred that fraud was involved in each of the 21 petitions because it appeared Bhatoo had been responsible for each and may also have signed key documents in some cases.
The court heard evidence from a forensic document examiner who found conclusive evidence that Bhatoo’s writing was on both petition and respondent documents in nine cases. In two further cases there was strong support for him having written on both.
One party gave a statement saying the signature on a divorce petition did not appear to be hers. Munby noted that one ‘does not need to be an expert’ to see this signature bore no relation to ones on other official documents she had signed.
Munby found it proved that underlying proceedings in all 21 cases were ‘tainted by deception’ in relation to addresses provided, and the decrees, where they had been granted, were obtained through deception.
He dismissed each of the petitions and ordered that Bhatoo pay the Queen’s Proctor costs on an indemnity basis.