Four convicted fraudsters, who were part of an 18-strong crime gang involved in a mobile phone VAT fraud, have been ordered to repay more than £111m in criminal profits or face additional jail terms
Ongoing proceedings by HMRC and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have resulted in confiscation orders against 16 members of the gang, totalling more than £114.9m.
A father and son who were the key organisers, Geoffrey and Gareth Johnson have been ordered to repay more than £109m jointly or have 14 years added to their sentences. The pair are currently the subject of international arrest warrants after absconding prior to their trial.
Their co-conspirator, Sarah Panitzke, of Barcelona, Spain, was ordered to repay over £2.4m or serve more time in jail. Panitzke is also on the run having absconded during her trial. She was sentenced originally in absence to eight years in prison in 2013 for her role in orchestrating the movement of very large volumes of money through offshore bank accounts.
Alison Shelton, from Staffordshire, who is currently serving a nine-year jail sentence for her part in the fraud, was ordered to repay £83,000. She was responsible for providing false paperwork for the so-called phone transactions.
The investigation by HMRC led to four criminal trials between 2012 and 2014. The 18 gang members from across England, Wales, Scotland and Spain, were jailed for a total of 135 years.
Kevin Newe, assistant director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: ‘Confiscation orders totalling more than £114m have now been made in this case, and these latest rulings show that criminals may think they can escape justice by fleeing the country, but our investigations to reclaim their ill-gotten gains continue. We are determined that crime gangs such as this one, should be prosecuted and then made to repay their criminal profits.’
The gang claimed to be legitimately importing and selling mobile phones but investigators established that this complex web of transactions was a sham involving non-existent phones.
HMRC also discovered that the gang had made complex arrangements to hide their criminal profits, laundering through bank accounts in the UK and further afield, inlcuding through Andorra, Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Portugal and the US. As part of the investigation and recovery of the stolen tax, HMRC and CPS retained assets and £300,000 in cash.