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GOLD BULLION AND A FLAT NEAR HARRODS; What pounds 37m VAT cheats spent their money on.

Byline: Fionnuala Bourke

A GANG of VAT fraudsters who stole pounds 37 million from the public purse have been jailed for a total of 74 years following one of the most complex investigations undertaken by customs and excise.

The 21 criminals, including nine from the West Midlands, used their swindled cash to invest in a third of a tonne of gold billion, property in Dubai and a plush flat near Harrods.

They set up a series of companies to hide their ill-gotten gains made through illegally selling on computer processing units. And they cheekily called one of their dodgy firms Shivani (Limited) - an anagram of 'I Vanish'.

Criminal investigators from HMRC have been investigating the gang's activities, which involved manipulating the VAT system through importing and exporting their goods, since April 2002.

Seven interlinked trials and retrials, codenamed Operation Devout, have been held to bring the fraudsters to justice.

The Birmingham Mail was banned from reporting the proceedings until now.

The restrictions were lifted yesterday following the conclusion of the seventh and final trial at Birmingham Crown Court. The trial of the other West Midland gang members took place at Northampton Crown Court.

The final West Midland gang member to be jailed was Christopher Traverse, of Streetsbrook Road, Shirley, Solihull.

The 68-year-old went on the run in France, but was finally detained by French police and extradited back to the UK on April 13.

The following day he was sentenced to two years - 18 months for laundering pounds 132,957 and a further six months to run consecutively for absconding.

He headed up a company called NCT Training Ltd.

The gang also included Stephen Farrell, from Birmingham Road, Lickey End, Bromsgrove. The 51-year-old was sentenced to four years and disqualified from being a company director for 12 years. He was involved in GW 224 Limited.

Jaswender Singh Chalal, of Hudson Road, Handsworth Wood, Birmingham, was sentenced to 18 months for laundering pounds 461,000. He ran two companies - Acorn Trading and Woodland Supplies.

Sukhdave Singh More, of Walsingham Street, Walsall, was sentenced to nine months for laundering pounds 165,000 and disqualified from being a company director for five years. He headed up Rapid Distribution Limited.

Tariq Kamal, of Stuarts Road, Stechford, Birmingham, was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for 18 months, for laundering pounds 53,000. He headed up Betta Solutions Ltd along with Peter Newey of Exhall Close, Redditch, who was sentenced to nine months, suspended for 18 months. The 41 year-old also laundered pounds 53,000.

Stuart Angelides, of Lady Byron Lane, Knowle, Solihull, who was sentenced to 18 months, suspended for 18 months, for laundering pounds 150,000. Northampton Crown Court heard he was an organiser rather than a front line launderer.

Pravin Jogia, of Oak Tree Close, Bentley Heath, Solihull was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Jogia was a director of Aurum Jewellery (Wholesale) Limited, and Aurum Jewellery 2000 limited.

Mark Sheasby, of Fox Lane, Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was disqualified from being a company director for 12 years.

The Court of Appeal later reduced his sentence to three and a half years.

Sheasby was also involved in GW 224 Limited.

Adrian Farley, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: "This was not some kind of victimless crime, but organised fraud on a massive scale by criminals masquerading as legitimate businesses - all bent on making fast and easy profits at the expense of the British taxpayer. Multiple businesses and bank accounts were deliberately set up to carry out the fraud and hide the proceeds of these crimes.

"However, each defendant knew the purpose of the payments they received were for money laundering and not legitimate trade," Mr Farley added.

CAPTION(S):

Stuart Angelides. Pravin Jogia. Mark Sheasby. Under arrest: Christopher Traverse is led away by police. Tariq Kamal. Sukhdave Singh More.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 26, 2010
Words:647
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