For Britain’s tax fugitives, 2018 was not a great year. HMRC investigators ramped up their chase of the country’s most-wanted, while the tax office handed out strong sentences to those convicted.
According to Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury, HMRC upped its chase of those “who would cheat the public revenue”.
HMRC has now revealed the ten most significant tax crime prosecutions of 2018, while Stride added: “The range of cases in this year’s list demonstrates how HMRC will always tackle fraud and can prosecute anyone who steals from the public or breaks the rules – from smugglers to potential arms dealers.”
Last year’s top 10 prosecutions include:
£53m tax fugitive caught in Canada
Hussain Asad Chohan fled the UK while standing trial for his role in tobacco smuggling fraud in 2006. Chohan was caught in Canada and has now begun a 12-year sentence and must repay £53m.
Chohan was also linked to a £185m VAT fraud involving fake companies set up to fraudulently reclaim VAT by faking the import and export of mobile phones and microchips.
Visa fraudsters who claimed £13m in tax repayments
Five fraudsters facilitated around 900 bogus visa applications, falsely claiming £13m in tax repayments. The scammers were sentenced to a total of over 31 years in jail.
Tobacco smugglers hid 2 million illegal cigarettes
An eight-strong gang brought two million illegal cigarettes to the North-East, hiding the goods inside fridge freezers. After authorities discovered the cigarettes inside a lorry near Middlesborough, the gang members were jailed for a total of over 26 years.
Tax consultant stole from £6.9m workers
David Michael Hughes travelled to Chile, Dubai and Cyprus to evade UK authorities after conspiring to steal £6.9m from construction workers’ pay packets. The tax consultant – who worked for Inland Revenue in the 1980s – was eventually arrested at Heathrow airport after arriving from Istanbul.
Father and son tax fugitives who escaped in light aircraft
A father and son pair of tax fugitives were caught in Spain last year having escaped Britain in a light aircraft following a £1m VAT fraud scheme.
Former Sandbanks resident Jamie Colwell, 51, began his prison sentence of five years and three months for stealing almost £1m in VAT repayments on new-build houses that never existed. His father, Brian Colwell, 76, of Bournemouth, was handed a jail term of two years and eight months.
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Trafficking for illegal weapons
Bristol-based pensioner Alexander George was jailed for two-and-a-half years after trafficking fighter jet parts to Iran in violation of controls on weapons of mass destruction. George shipped items including Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom parts through various companies and countries.
Male-stripping troupe manager caught
Laurel Goodman, 57, who co-managed travelling male stripper group Dream Idols, was sentenced to 26 months imprisonment in September 2016 for tax and benefit fraud.
Goodman moved to a remote location and changed her identity, but was ultimately caught by HMRC investigators after a year on the run. She evaded £114,000 in income tax while managing Dream Idols.
Church leader fraudulently claimed £150,000 Gift Aid
Luton preacher Teslim Johnson was jailed for four years after being found to have fraudulently claimed £150,000 Gift Aid repayments. Johnson lied about charity donations to swindle the tax office, but HMRC investigations found that as Johnson was the only person named on the church’s bank accounts, he was able to divert money from these fraudulent claims into his personal bank account.
Mark Cox, assistant director at HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “Johnson thought his position in society would put him above scrutiny, but if you break the law HMRC will investigate.”
£9.8m VAT funded luxury Spanish home
Businessman Jason Butler oversaw international VAT fraud worth £9.8m to fund an extravagent lifestyle of expensive cars and a luxury Spanish home before being caught by HMRC investigators.
Butler, who owned a string of expensive supercars, a speedboat and 96 properties in Leeds, was jailed for nine years in March 2018.
Eden Noblett, assistant director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “This was a complex fraud involving offshore companies and moving money internationally. This case should serve as a warning to anyone considering stealing taxpayers’ money. No matter how clever and sophisticated you think your fraud is, we will catch you.”
£450,000 tax scam to finance sports car racing
A company director from Hemel Hempstead oversaw a £450,000 money-laundering scam to finance his hobby of racing high-powered sports cars in competitive races across Europe. Simon Atkinson was already being watched by HMRC when investigators discovered the six-figure tax fraud.
Responding to HMRC’s record of tax prosecutions in 2018, Simon York, director of the Fraud Investigation Service, said:
“As these cases show, HMRC can and will tackle the most serious tax crime and breaches of sanctions whether committed by organised criminals, professional advisors or wealthy individuals.
“We remain resolute and relentless in our determination to level the playing field and bring tax criminals to justice on behalf of the majority of citizens who pay their tax to fund vital public services.
“HMRC uses the full range of both criminal and civil powers to investigate tax cheats and continues to be successful in around 90% of criminal cases it brings to trial. However, work doesn’t stop there – HMRC always looks to recover the proceeds from any crime committed to secure the funds for the public purse.”
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