A gang of fraudsters, including two members of Indian origin, have been given jail sentences totalling 40 years for perpetuating a multi-million pound VAT scam on the mobile phone industry.
The gang members, mainly based in the Midlands, were sentenced by the Worcester Crown Court this week, after a six-year investigation by Revenue and Customs officials and two criminal trials.
Ringleader Emmanuel Hening, 33, a Luxembourg-based businessman was found guilty on three counts of "missing trader" fraud and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Jaswant Ray Kanda, 42, based near Sutton Coldfield, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years and banned from being a company director for eight years. Kanda was a director of Waves International Ltd, based at Bradford Court, Bradford Street, Birmingham.
Another person sentenced for four-and-a-half-years was Bhovinder Singh Sangha, 38. He reportedly tried to flee Britain between verdict and sentencing but was intercepted by the police at the Channel Tunnel on his way to India, via Paris. He was a director of B-Tel Com.
Reports from Birmingham say that investigations by Revenue and Customs officials began in 2000 and involved breaking the audit trail of businesses based in Britain, Luxembourg and France through a company called Handycom SA operated by Hening.
Hening claimed on invoices to be importing large numbers of European-specification mobile phones into Britain, VAT-free, by various companies that he had set up. He then sold the phones "on paper", charging VAT that was never paid.
Prosecutors told the court that these companies then "went missing" and the phones were sold to "buffer" traders before being exported back to Hening. He was also disqualified from being a company director for 15 years.
The operators of the buffer companies were found guilty by unanimous verdicts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue last June after a nine-week trial at Worcester Crown Court. Others sentenced included David William Burch, Brian John Meehan, Abid Mukhtar and Angela Antoinette Senatore.
Chris Harrison, deputy director of investigations for Revenue and Customs, told the media: "This was not some kind of victimless crime, but organised fraud on a massive scale perpetrated by criminals all bent on making fast and easy profits at the expense of the British taxpayer."