HMRC’s top 10 prosecutions of last year
HMRC’s list of top 10 prosecutions in 2018 not only demonstrates the diversity of crimes that HMRC has to deal with, but also the assortment of perpetrators of these transgressions. High-flying business people, tax consultants, church leaders and organised criminals are just some of the people that were tempted to commit crimes such as stealing Gift Aid money from charities, smuggling illicit tobacco in fridge freezers, breaching weapons of mass destruction controls and buying top-end sports cars with the proceeds of crime.
One of UK’s most wanted tax fugitives
Multi-millionaire Hussain Asad Chohan, formerly of Moseley, Birmingham, fled the country while standing trial for his role in tobacco smuggling fraud in 2006. Owing more than £53 million, Chohan spent more than 11 years on the run but finally ended up behind bars after he was caught in Canada.
Chohan was extradited from Canada by a team of specialist officers from HMRC’s Offender Management and Enforcement Team, with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Interpol. He is now serving a 12-year prison sentence and must repay more than £53 million.
£13 million in fraudulent tax repayments
Five fraudsters who falsely claimed £13 million in tax repayments, and facilitated around 900 bogus visa applications, were given a total of more than 31 years in jail.
London law student Abul Kalam Muhammad Rezaul Karim, 42, was the ringleader in the organised crime group. He and his four accomplices set up 79 bogus companies and created fake documentation which were used by Bangladeshi nationals in fraudulent visa applications.
They also used these companies to attempt to fraudulently reclaim £13 million in tax repayments from HMRC over a six-year period.
Smoking is not good for you
An eight-strong tobacco smuggling gang, which brought more than two million illegal cigarettes into the North East hidden among fridge freezers, were jailed for more than 26 years.
Ringleader Mohammad Zada of Billingham, presided over the smuggling gang, which was caught with illegal tobacco products worth £713,037 in unpaid duty, an investigation by HMRC revealed.
The largest haul was discovered on the back of a lorry in Middlesbrough where officers found over 2.2 million non-UK duty paid cigarettes hidden amongst a shipment of fridge freezers.
Investigators also seized large amounts of illegal tobacco products from a rented storage unit and one of the gang member’s homes, both in Stockton-on-Tees.
Fleeing tax consultant
A globe-trotting tax consultant who fled the UK before he could be arrested for masterminding a conspiracy to steal £6.9 million from construction workers’ pay packets is now serving time in prison.
David Michael Hughes, known as Mike Hughes, 52, worked for the Inland Revenue in the 1980s before setting up as a tax consultant in Kent. He led a conspiracy which used a string of UK and offshore companies and bank accounts to steal £6.9 million in taxes paid by clients and deducted from workers’ wages, through fraudulent payroll schemes.
The money, which should have been paid to HMRC, was split between Hughes and his co-conspirators.
Hughes left the UK in September 2011, travelling to Chile and Dubai before setting up home in Northern Cyprus, which does not have an extradition treaty with the UK. He was arrested by HMRC investigators at Heathrow Airport in January 2018 when he arrived on a flight from Istanbul, Turkey.
In August 2018, Hughes was jailed for nine-and-a-half years at Southwark Crown Court. Three other men were jailed for a total of 19 years in October 2016.
Father and son on the run
Father and son tax fugitives were finally jailed after being captured in Spain and extradited to the UK. The £1 million VAT fraudster tried to avoid jail by fleeing to France in a light aircraft, while his accomplice father escaped by ferry before they both headed to Spain.
Former Sandbanks resident Jamie Colwell, 51, was handed a prison sentence of five years and three months, in May 2018, for stealing almost £1 million in VAT repayments on new-build houses that never existed. His father, Brian Colwell, 76, of Bournemouth, was given a two year and eight-month jail term.
The pair were tracked down by HMRC investigators and the department’s overseas partners to a villa near Benidorm, where they were arrested by Guardia Civil officers on the evening of 9th May 2018.
Company boss shot down
A retired company boss was jailed for trafficking fighter jet parts to Iran in violation of Weapons of Mass Destruction controls.
Alexander George, 77, from Bristol, was imprisoned for two-and-a-half years for shipping military items to Iran, including Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom parts sent through various companies and countries, following an investigation by HMRC.
Two others, Paul Attwater, 65, and his 66-year-old wife Iris, both of Telford, Shropshire, were handed suspended six-month prison sentences for sourcing dual-use aircraft parts from the US and shipping them to George’s companies in Malaysia and Dubai, which then sent them to Iran.
The manager of a well-known male stripping troupe, who was sentenced in her absence for tax and benefit fraud, was finally put behind bars after more than a year on the run.
Laurel Goodman, 57, of Barnet, who co-managed the Dream Idols, absconded before being sentenced to 28 months imprisonment in September 2016.
HMRC investigators tracked her to a £1,600-a-month rented house in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk and arrested her on 1st December 2017. She was living under the alias of Chrissie Tatum and had been running Pet Superstars, a business making films advertising pet supplies, which had a turnover of more than £70,000 in 2016.
Thou shalt not steal
A church leader from Luton, who lied about charity donations to fraudulently claim £150,000 Gift Aid repayments, was given a four-year prison sentence following an investigation by HMRC.
Teslim Johnson, 39, from Dunstable, used his position as a preacher and trustee at Luton’s Agape Church to steal £155,840. As a registered charity, Agape Church could claim Gift Aid on donations to the church. However, in 2016, HMRC officers contacted donors listed on the charity’s records after they became suspicious of a series of claims that were submitted. They found that most of the donations had not been made and many of the donors had never heard of the church.
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.
The Butler did it
A high-flying businessman who masterminded a sophisticated £9.8 million international VAT fraud to fund his lavish lifestyle of flash cars and a luxury Spanish home, is doing porridge for nine years.
Jason Butler, 46, formerly of Leeds, created hundreds of false invoices to steal millions of pounds in VAT and tried to hide the scam in a complex trading chain involving companies in the UK, Gibraltar, Spain and the US, which was uncovered by a HMRC investigation.
Whilst residing in Spain, Butler told HMRC he bought almost £60 million worth of personal data, but checks revealed this was a lie. In reality, he was forging purchase invoices to falsely reclaim VAT and trading very cheap raw data through a complex international supply chain in a bid to hide his crimes.
Butler, who previously ran a number of companies in Yorkshire which were part of Jump Group Ltd, used money from the fraudulent scheme to fund a vast portfolio of properties in Leeds, a luxury Spanish home, a collection of sports cars and a speedboat.
A Hemel Hempstead company director, who funded his hobby racing high-powered sports cars in races across Europe through a £450,000 tax scam, got his comeuppance.
Simon Atkinson was already under investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for anti-money laundering offences when officers unearthed the six-figure tax fraud, which he used to finance his passion for racing Lamborghinis in competitive motor tournaments.
The 54-year-old raced at tracks including UK’s Brands Hatch and Belgium’s world-famous Spa circuit in the Supercar Challenge, and entered the 24-hour Series Barcelona race twice and the Maxi Endurance 32 hour in Portugal’s Algarve.
In July 2018, Atkinson pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to comply with money laundering regulations, and two counts of cheating the public revenue. He has since paid back most of the stolen money and last month was jailed for three years and four months and ordered to pay back the remaining £30,125 within 42 days.
HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service raises around £5 billion a year through civil and criminal investigations, and it is worth tipping one’s hat to the department for its relentless pursuit of serious tax crime.