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Were members of 15 strong criminal gang
A criminal gang, including two men from North Staffordshire, who attempted to defraud in excess of £176m in VAT through complex mobile phone trading scams, have been sentenced.
The ring leader, 34 year old Dilawar Ravjani, was jailed for 17 years – the longest sentence ever given to an individual in the UK for this type of fraud.
The 15 strong gang claimed to have sold four million mobile phones worth £1.7bn, however, in many cases the phones did not exist, including 250,000 which had not yet been launched in the UK.
In an attempt to make the trade appear legitimate, over 5,700 fake business transactions were created in order to claim large amounts of VAT.
The investigation by HM Revenue & Customs officers started in May 2006, and the first arrests were made within three weeks and prevented the attempted £176m fraud.
HMRC also prevented the payment of fraudulent VAT repayment claims totalling £109m submitted by companies linked to the scam.
Reporting restrictions on all five linked trials have now been lifted following the final defendant’s plea last month.
Owner of freight company A1 Logistics & Freight Ltd, 42 year old Lee Sellers of Whitehurst Lane, Dilhorne, admitted fraudulent trading.
He was jailed for two-and-a-half years, and banned from being a company director for five years.
43 year old Paul Smith of Hawthorne Avenue, Trent Vale, was a manager at a freight forwarding company, and signed and provided paperwork to justify the alleged movement of phone consignments between the UK and EU.
He was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence on January 27 and ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work.
Chris Martin, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation said: "Fraud on this scale causes immense damage to the tax revenues of the UK and the European Union.
"This was a complex and well-organised fraud which made a huge profit for the gang at the expense of UK taxpayers, but the dedication and techniques used by HMRC officers in this investigation resulted in the successful prosecution and convictions of these criminals.
"We will now seek to recover the proceeds of this crime.”