Two Kent men who funded lavish lifestyles by tax fraud have been ordered to pay back more than £3.5million within three months, or serve longer prison terms and still owe the money.
Aquil Ahmed, 61, an accountant, and co-conspirator Victor Shearer, 44, a construction services company director, both from Kent, were jailed in October 2016. They were part of a conspiracy that defrauded HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of £6.9 million in VAT, Income Tax, National Insurance Contributions and Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions through fraudulent payroll schemes.
Ahmed’s ‘Keepers’ accountancy businesses ran the payroll for Shearer’s company ‘Leaner Logistics Limited’. Shearer introduced other clients to the payroll company and use of the fraudulent scheme. Workers believed their taxes were being paid to HMRC, but instead they were lining the men’s pockets.
The pair face selling their assets to pay back a total of £3,578,999.33 after confiscation hearings at Maidstone Crown Court. Ahmed must repay £2.9 million within three months, or face a further five years in jail and still have to pay up. Shearer must pay back £646,000 within three months, or face a further three years in jail and still owe the money.
Nicol Sheppard, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:
“We do everything we can to stop criminals profiting from their crimes and to recover the money to fund the public purse. Ahmed and Shearer stole millions of pounds from the UK economy, using numerous UK and offshore companies to hide their fraud. They were driven by greed, abusing systems that are designed to ensure workers are paid correctly and taxes paid to HMRC.
“They are still serving their prison sentences and if they fail to comply with these orders they will spend even more time behind bars - and still owe the money. We encourage anyone with information about tax fraud to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
In June 2016 Ahmed admitted conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. He was jailed for seven years and eight months in October 2016, and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years. In July 2016 Shearer was convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and money laundering. He was jailed for seven years and six months, and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.
During his trial the court heard Shearer laundered £1.2 million through a Gibraltar bank account and spent money on property and high-living including ski-holidays, cars and treating friends, family and clients. Ahmed owned a Bentley, bought properties in the UK, USA and Turkey, took multiple foreign holidays including trips to Dubai and the Monaco Grand Prix.
The men’s criminal benefit is more than the assets currently available. HMRC can pursue any future wealth to cover the full criminal benefit.
HMRC and the National Crime Agency (NCA) are aware of a threat of payroll scams operating in the UK, and remind businesses to ensure that they carry out ‘due diligence’ checks before appointing a payroll company to act on their behalf. Anyone who believes they have information, or may be a victim of payroll fraud can report it online at: www.gov.uk/topic/dealing-with-hmrc/tax-complianceor by calling 0800 788 887.
Notes for Editors
1. On 14 June 2016 Aquil Shabbir Ahmed (DOB 05.02.56) a management accountant, then of St Leonards Street, West Malling, Kent, pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. On 21 October 2016 he was jailed for seven years and eight months, and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years. He pleaded not guilty to money laundering.
2. On 21 July 2016, after a six week trial, Victor Craig Shearer (DOB 17.05.73) a construction services company director, then of Discovery Drive, Kings Hill, Kent, was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and one count of money laundering. He was jailed for seven years and six months, and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.
3. At Maidstone Crown Court on 3 January 2018 Ahmed was ordered to pay £2,932,605.36 within three months, or face an extra five years in jail and still owe the money.
4. At Maidstone Crown Court on 4 January 2018 Shearer was ordered to pay £646,393.97 within three months, or face an extra three years in jail and still owe the money.
5. The criminal benefit for both men is more than the assets available. Ahmed’s criminal benefit was calculated as £4,165,594.08, and Shearer’s criminal benefit calculated as £1,326,938.35.
6. There is no appeal against default jail sentences issued in confiscation orders and the order for repayment remains in place after the default sentence is served by the fraudster. If the assets held by the convicted criminal at the time of the order are less than the benefit derived from the fraud, then any future assets can be confiscated up to the value of the benefit of the fraud.
7. Confiscation was not pursued in respect of Christopher Azzopardi, a bookkeeper / payroll administrator, previously of Swanscombe, Kent. Azzopardi was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue on 21 July 2016. He was jailed for four years on 21 October 2016.
8. Photographs are available from HMRC’s Flickr channelwww.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk
9. A news release issued at sentencing in October 2016 provides further details of the fraud.
10. The National Crime Agency (NCA) issued a ‘Red Alert’ warning to businesses about payroll fraud in August 2016.You can find that here: http://www.nfopp-regulation.co.uk/media/1044988/hmrc-nca-business-outsourcing-fraud.pdf
11. Guidance on Due Diligence checks for employers can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/use-of-labour-providers/use-of-labour-providers-advice-on-due-diligence
12. Anyone with information regarding tax fraud should contact our hotline on 0800 788 887 or report it online at: https://www.gov.uk/topic/dealing-with-hmrc/tax-compliance
13. Follow HMRC Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice
Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.
HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.