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Component smugglers get 16 years

Dodged £12m in tax and duty over 5 years

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A six strong gang of computer component fraudsters have been sentenced to more than sixteen years in prison for evading paying taxes of almost £12 million.

The five men and a woman were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court. The Customs Duty and VAT fraud was carried out over a five-year period from November 1993 to October 1998. It involved importing of tens of millions of pounds worth of computer components from Hong Kong and the Irish Republic.

HM Customs and Excise say the gang evaded paying £11.5 million in tax and duty, but suspect it could be considerably more.

This is how the sentences were doled out: Mark Humber got six years; Neil Condliffe got two years; Julie Bloor got 15 months; Noel Cowan got four years; Stephen Maloney got two years and six months; Matthew Robinson-Smith got six months. Humber and Bloor were also disqualified from being directors for ten years.

Two other members of the gang haven't been brought to trial yet. John Nugent absconded whilst on bail, and John Humber, was never caught and is now believed to be living outside the UK.

The gang set up bogus companies in Warrington and Stoke-on-Trent to buy the memory and processing components from Ireland and Hong Kong. The goods bought from Hong Kong were collected by one of the conspirators and either smuggled into the UK in their hand luggage or grossly undervalued when declared to Customs to calculate the tax due. This enabled the goods to be brought into the UK without payment of import duty, anti-dumping duty and import VAT. The bogus companies then forged invoices so that UK VAT could be reclaimed.

The components from Ireland were bought without payment of VAT by providing the suppliers with false VAT numbers. Sometimes these numbers were from companies registered for VAT solely to provide a false audit trail. Again, forged invoices were produced to enable UK VAT to be falsely reclaimed.

Customs & Excise began their investigations in December 1997; these involved major enquiries in Holland, Hong Kong, Ireland and Switzerland. In all 17 premises and six safe deposit boxes were searched and 58 bank and telephone accounts were examined. Compensation proceedings to recover the remaining assets are underway. ®

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