10/2/2008 2:34:00 PM
Record VAT Fraud sees 21 convicted after £138m trial
HM Revenue and Customs scored (HMRC) its most successful convictions against VAT fraud this week, resulting in 21 people jailed for stealing a total of £138m by avoiding paying tax on mobile phones.
The fraud was masterminded by Craig Johnson from north Staffordshire, who bought a £3m country mansion with a swimming pool, two helicopters and four cars costing around £160,000, including an Aston Martin, a Ferrari, a Mercedes and a Bentley. He also had two more UK properties and seven in Dubai.
The criminals were sentenced for a total of 133 years at Worcester Crown Court, after being found guilty for conducting what is known as ‘carousel fraud’ or ‘missing trader fraud’ – a scheme where fraudsters move phones through various companies, claiming VAT against every company and then disappearing without paying the VAT.
Johnson, 35, is the latest Stoke-based trader to be convicted for VAT fraud. It emerged that 13 of the 21 jailed in this case were from north Staffordshire.
Johnson was in charge of Signal Telecom and bought and sold phones with the others accused in the trial.
Steven Lipinksi from Tech Trading and Linda Wragg from First For Fones were also convicted in the trial.
The case involved three separate, yet linked, investigations, codenamed ‘operation shoot’, ‘operation emersed’ and ‘operation shepherd’.
Some of the fraud took place eight years ago but until now reporting restrictions had prevented the full story from emerging.
Chris Harrison, deputy director of operations and criminal investigation at HMRC, said: ‘This was not a victimless crime, but organised fraud on a massive scale perpetrated by criminals all bent on making fast and easy profits at the expense of the British taxpayer.’
Customs has been keen to outline its battle with VAT fraudsters after years of exploitation hitting the UK budget, provoking comments made by then chancellor Gordon Brown on the issue in 2006.