Three men, including an accountant and a construction firm boss, who stole £6.9 million in UK taxes to fund playboy lifestyles, have been jailed for a total of 19 years.
For two and a half years, Kent-based co-conspirators Aquil Ahmed, 60, an accountant; Victor Shearer, 43, a construction services company director; and Christopher Azzopardi, 37, a payroll administrator employed by Ahmed, defrauded HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of VAT, Income Tax, National Insurance Contributions and Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions, according to a statement released by HMRC today.
The taxes were those that workers of companies using the payroll services thought were being paid to HMRC. The men attempted to hide their fraud by using a complex network of companies and bank accounts in the UK and offshore, but their crimes were uncovered by investigators from HMRC, the statement read.
Ahmed employed Azzopardi to operate payroll services for clients through his various ‘Keepers’ companies, supposedly calculating wages and paying any tax due to HMRC through the PAYE and CIS systems. Clients were charged VAT on these services, but neither the VAT nor the PAYE and CIS deductions were paid across to HMRC.
Shearer’s company, Leaner Logistics, supplies short-term contractors to the construction industry, mainly in London and the South East. Often providing hundreds of workers at a time, Shearer turned to Ahmed’s Keepers companies to run his payroll and CIS.
Over time, Shearer introduced other clients to the payroll company, who also used this fraudulent scheme. But rather than pay the tax and National Insurance to HMRC, the three men stole the money to fund Ahmed and Shearer’s lavish lifestyles.
Ahmed owned a Bentley; bought properties in the UK, USA and Turkey; and took multiple foreign holidays, including trips to Dubai and the Monaco Grand Prix, HMRC said in its statement. The court heard Azzopardi was in debt. Ahmed paid him around £60,000 a year, double a usual bookkeeper’s wage, for his role in the fraud. No tax was paid on his salary.
Chris Gill, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These men were driven by greed, abusing systems that are designed to ensure workers are paid correctly and taxes paid to HMRC. They were all professionals who knew they were breaking the law, but as an accountant Ahmed was in a position of trust, making his part in the conspiracy even more deplorable.
“These criminals thought they’d created a sophisticated fraud, and that by operating through numerous UK and offshore companies, they could hide what they were doing. But our investigations are thorough, and with assistance from authorities in Gibraltar, we unravelled the many layers they’d created and they are now paying the price for their crimes.”
Ahmed pleaded guilty to three counts of cheating the public revenue at Maidstone Crown Court 14 June. Shearer and Azzopardi were found guilty of three counts of cheating the public revenue on 21 July, after a six week trial at the same court.
Gibraltar bank account
Shearer was also found guilty of laundering his £1.2 million cut through a bank account in Gibraltar. The court heard how vast sums were spent by Shearer, through bank transfers, cash withdrawals and by debit card, on property and high-living, ski holidays, cars and treating friends, family and clients.
Ahmed, Azzopardi and Shearer were sentenced to 7 years 8 months, 4 years and 7 years 6 months imprisonment, respectively, when they appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on Friday (21 October 2016).
Ahmed and Shearer channelled money through Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, the UAE, USA, Turkey and various property transactions. They are both subject to financial restraint orders.