MEMBERS of an illicit hi-tech smuggling operation, uncovered after computer disks sold to St Albans District Council failed to work, were convicted at The Old Bailey on Friday.

Sikander Qureshi, 55, from Stanmore, Middlesex, Shaheen Parveen, 45, of Kingsbury, London, and Zafor Ahmed, 33, of Forest Gate, London, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud Microsoft, over a two-year period.

The multi-million pound scam saw the three defendants net an estimated £15 million by selling fake Microsoft computer software to unsuspecting customers.

Qureshi, a chartered accountant, is believed to have masterminded the scam from his offices in Shoreditch with the help of his employee Parveen and Ahmed.

The fraudsters, who saw a window of opportunity to sell cheaply-produced counterfeit Microsoft products, smuggled the bogus software into Britain from Asia to be packaged, backed with stolen certificates of authenticity and sold.

The Old Bailey heard how the gang had purchased the counterfeit computer discs from illegal manufacturers in Pakistan, Thailand and Singapore and produced copies of Microsoft manuals and packaging.

The conspiracy was foiled, however, after the bogus Microsoft server discs supplied to St Albans District Council failed to work properly.

The police closed the operation down in December 1999 after raiding a factory in Fairfield Road, Bow.

The defendants are now in custody awaiting sentence, which is expected next month, following the preparation of reports.

A spokesman for St Albans District Council refused to comment.