DRAM VAT fraudsters jailed for 18 ½ years

£39m component fraud

Four British computer dealers were sentenced today a total of 18 and a half years for a £39 million series of VAT and duty frauds involving components imported from the US and Hong Kong.

Omar Bassam, 44, of Girton, Cambridge; Paul Burke, 38, of Shelfield, Walsall; Nicholas Skidmore, 35, Southport, Merseyside; and David Withers, 46, of Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham controlled a network of companies and bank accounts and property in both the UK and the Cayman Islands. The companies involved were Cambridge Computer Supplies, of Cambridge; Computerwise Products, Computerwise Distribution and Microtech Europe, all of Birmingham.

In the first stage of the frauds, computer memory modules were imported into the UK under false - massively undervalued invoices. The value of one consignment was declared as $2,000 when the true value was nearly $1 million.

The second stage involved the manufacture of false invoices to support massive VAT reclaims to which they were not entitled. To add credibility to the false invoices they 'hi-jacked' the details and VAT number of Compaq Computers, which had no knowledge of the scam.

Customs' investigations led officers from Birmingham to the US, Germany and the Republic of Ireland and proceedings are currently pending in the America against the gang's US supplier. Financial investigations showed more than £85 million passing through just one bank account in the nine months between May 1998 and January 1999 and the assets of all four men have now been seized by Customs.

Omar Bassam was sentenced to 18 months plus an additional three years if he fails to pay nearly £800,000 compensation. Paul Burke was sentenced to three years on each of two charges (which will run concurrently), with an additional two years if he fails to pay £440,000 compensation. Nicholas Skidmore was sentenced to seven years on each of four charges to run concurrently, with an additional two years if he fails to pay compensation of £643,000.

David Withers was sentenced to six years on each of two fraud charges to run concurrently, plus an additional two years if he fails to pay compensation of £205,000. He was also sentenced to an additional term of one year for a money laundering charge, which will run consecutive to his other sentence.

Burke and Skidmore pleaded guilty to the fraud charges. Withers and Bassam were found guilty of fraud by a jury after pleading not guilty.

His Honour Judge Derek Stanley, sitting in Birmingham Crown Court, described the fraudsters’ crimes as a “massive assault on the public revenue". He praised customs investigators for the thoroughness of their investigation and their presentation of what had been a complex case.

"This was a concerted and sustained attack on the system, involving fraud on a massive scale,” said Frank Ferguson, Customs' Assistant Chief Investigation Officer. "The greed of these men led them into a culture of crime, their businesses supported by a web of fraud and lies. The sentences handed down today should serve notice to anyone operating fraudulently in the computer trade - you will be found and you will be punished." ®