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Mohammed Ashrafi preyed on vulnerable victims

image captionMohammed Ashrafi denies conning 18 people in Leicester out of hundreds of thousands of pounds

An astrologer and faith healer was a conman who made £650,000 preying on the vulnerable, a court heard.

Mohammed Ashrafi is accused of conning 18 people in Leicester who had personal problems, illnesses or financial difficulties.

Leicester Crown Court heard he told his victims they would win a lottery draw last March.

Mr Ashrafi, who worked from a house in Babingley Drive, Leicester, denies 15 counts of fraud and one of blackmail.

James House, prosecuting, said Mr Ashrafi used "elaborate confidence tricks" and was "a vulture who preyed on people at their most vulnerable".

"They wanted to believe in him and he used that to get their money. It devastated their lives," he said.

Mr House said Mr Ashrafi advertised his services in the local media, describing himself as a devotee of Sai Baba.

image captionMohammed Ashrafi is accused of duping people in Leicester in 2013 and 2014 from his base in Babingley Drive

He "hooked in" his victims by convincing them he could communicate directly with the Indian spiritual master, prompting them to hand over thousands of pounds, the court heard.

One victim gave him £100,000, the prosecution said.

Mr Ashrafi worked from the Leicester house between 2013 and early 2014 and told his victims they would win the lottery on 28 March last year.

But, by the time they realised they had been conned he had left the city.

The trial is expected to last a month.

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