Fraud gang convicted of £30million VAT scam

Murray, Bell and Smith all found guilty Murray, Bell and Smith all found guilty

Monday, February 24, 2014
5:22 PM

Kent trio await sentencing

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An organised crime gang from Kent has been convicted of taking part in a £30 million “missing trader” VAT fraud.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators shut down the multi-million pound fraud, which involved the importation of mobile phones and computer chips from Europe and the United States, after stopping attempts by Amber Communications Management Ltd (ACM) to claim VAT repayments worth over £18 million.

The fraud worked by selling the phones and computer chips in the UK along a contrived supply chain before ACM exported the goods to Switzerland or Dubai. The traders at the start of the chain invariably failed to pay the VAT they had charged on the original supply.

Ross Bell, of Alpha Road, Ramsgate, Brian Murray, of Beresford Gardens, Margate, and Lonnie Smith, of Lavender Lane, Ramsgate, all await sentence for their part in the fraud.

Murray and Bell, were the directors of ACM during the fraud. They were assisted by company secretary Lonnie Smith, also from Kent, and a London-based employee, Garry Salter, who was involved in day-to-day trading activities.

Assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, John Cooper, said: “This gang stole vast amounts of money they neither earned nor deserved, all at the expense of honest people. They did this to fund the purchase of shares, high-end vehicles, a boat and property in Dubai. We also found evidence that the gang had had numerous foreign holidays, withdrawn large sums of cash and made payments to family members.

“HMRC works tirelessly not only to identify and stop fraud, but also to recover the profits of crime. Our next priority is to seek out the gang’s assets, so that we can reclaim the proceeds of their illegal activities.”

The gang had already successfully claimed £10m in fraudulent VAT repayments, however, HMRC intervention to stop further claims forced ACM to obtain an £8 million loan to keep the company operating. This loan was supposedly from a Hong Kong-based finance company, but enquiries revealed that the backer was itself involved in the fraudulent trading.

All four had denied cheating the public revenue and money laundering offences during their trial at Kingston Crown Court. They will be sentenced in April.

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