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VAT fraud gang ordered to repay more than £114m criminal profits

Press Release   •   Mar 24, 2016 17:32 GMT

Four convicted fraudsters, who were part of an 18-strong crime gang involved in a vast mobile phone VAT fraud, have been ordered to repay more than £111 million in criminal profits.

Ongoing proceedings by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have resulted in confiscation orders against 16 members of the gang, totalling more than £114.9 million.

Key organisers of the fraud, father and son, Geoffrey and Gareth Johnson have been ordered to repay more than £109 million jointly. The pair are currently the subject of international arrest warrants after absconding prior to their trial.

Co-conspirator, Sarah Panitzke, 42, of Barcelona, Spain, was ordered to repay over £2.4 millionor serve more time in jail. Panitzke is also on the run.

Alison Shelton, 43 of Staffordshire, who is currently serving a nine-year jail sentence for her part in the fraud, was ordered to repay £83,000.

The investigation by HMRC led to four criminal trials between 2012 and 2014. The 18 gang members from: Cheshire, East Sussex, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, Staffordshire, Scotland and Spain, were jailed for a total of 135 years.

Kevin Newe, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Confiscation orders totalling more than £114 million have now been made in this case, and these latest rulings show that criminals may think they can escape justice by fleeing the country, but our investigations to reclaim their ill-gotten gains continue. We are determined that crime gangs such as this one, should be prosecuted and then made to repay their criminal profits.”

Nick Price, Head of CPS Proceeds of Crime, said:

“Today’s orders again illustrate that the CPS will work closely and tenaciously with our criminal justice partners to go after the assets of those who engage in large-scale fraud, and even in the case of those who wilfully abscond from the proceedings.

“Our work does not stop here. We will continue to engage with our partners in the UK and around the world in working towards the realisation of the assets in this order. We are determined that crime will not pay.”

Since sentencing, other gang members who profited from the fraud, have appeared before His Honour Judge Campbell at Kingston Crown Court to face individual confiscation orders.

The gang claimed to be legitimately importing and selling mobile phones but investigators established that this complex web of transactions was a sham involving non-existent phones. Their ‘business’ was simply a vehicle for fraudulent VAT repayment claims.

HMRC also discovered that the gang had made complex arrangements to hide their criminal profits, laundering through various bank accounts in Andorra, Dubai, Hong Kong, USA, Switzerland, Portugal and the UK. As part of the investigation and recovery of the stolen tax HMRC and CPS retained assets and £300,000 in cash.

Notes to Editors

  1. Latest confiscation orders issued as part of Operation Vaulter:

    - Geoffrey Winston Johnson (DOB 19.06.43) of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – a joint confiscation order for £109,203,791 made on 22 March 2016, to be paid immediately or a default prison sentence of 14 years to be added to his sentence. Geoffrey, father of Gareth Johnson, was sentenced to ten years in prison in his absence in 2014. He did not answer bail to attend trial. Geoffrey Johnson was instrumental in laundering the criminal proceeds of the fraud and greatly benefitted from them.

    -Gareth Johnson (DOB 29.02.68) formerly of Turin, Forfar, Scotland, - a joint confiscation order for £109,203,791 made on 22 March 2016, to be paid immediately or a default prison sentence of 14 years to be added to his sentence. Gareth, son of Geoffrey Johnson was sentenced to twelve years in prison in his absence in 2013. He did not answer bail to attend trial and is still a fugitive. Gareth Johnson was the principal controller behind Tectonics Holdings – which played an integral role in the fraud as the money laundering arm of the operation through personal UK and offshore accounts. He also had control of Coast Logistics another company used in the fraud.

    -Sarah Panitzke (DOB 03.03.74) of Raco De Santa Llucia, Vila Nova, Barcelona, Spain - a confiscation order for £2,455,913 made on 22 March 2016, to be paid within three months or a default prison sentence of nine years will be added to her sentence. She absconded during her trial and was sentenced originally in absence to eight years in prison in 2013. Panitzke was based in Andorra and Spain and played an important role in orchestrating the movement of extraordinary volumes of money, through offshore bank accounts.

    -Alison Elizabeth Samantha Shelton (previously Sanders) (DOB 12.09.72) of Sands Road, Harrishead, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire - a confiscation order for £83,649 made on 22 March 2016, to be paid within three months or a default prison sentence of 18 months will be added to her sentence. Shelton was originally sentenced to nine years in prison in 2013. Sanders worked for Coast Logistics, from a distance, and was the ‘guiding mind’ for those providing false paperwork, storage and transportation for the often fictitious mobile phones from companies, Demravale and Euro Cellular, used in the fraud.

  2. For background to their fraud prosecutions contact the HMRC press office. Details of twelve previous confiscations are available in HMRC news release NW16/15:
  3. 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 criminal benefits on a confiscation order are higher than the repayment amount HMRC can recover the outstanding amount in the future.
  1. Anyone with information regarding fraud is encouraged to contact the 24-hour Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or report it online via:
  2. Follow HMRC’s Press Office on Twitter @hmrcpressoffice
  3. HMRC’s Flickr channel

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.

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