By Max Clarke

Three men who were part of a gang who stole and laundered £17 million in a ‘missing trader’ VAT fraud have been jailed for a total of six years today. It follows the sentencing of six other gang members last December.

The subject of fraud has been under media focus recently, after the National Fraud Authority calculated that it cost the UK economy to be £38 Billion in 2010, while the Office for Fair Trading estimates that 1 in 20 falls victim to scams each year.

One of the gang members Diljan Saggar, also known as Jon Soni, is from Berkshire and was jailed for two years and three months for money laundering.

Criminal investigators from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) smashed the multi million pound fraud which involved manipulating the VAT system by pretending to import and export mobile phone products. However, evidence showed the goods never actually existed and the paperwork used to demonstrate trading was generated by a sophisticated computer program devised specifically for these illegal purposes.

During the investigation officers identified and stopped fraudulent VAT claims already made to HMRC worth £5m and found data on CD Roms recovered during house searches showing the gang intended to steal an additional £300m.

Gary Lampon, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC said:

“There are real victims behind ‘missing trader’ fraud. The proceeds from this type of fraud are funding serious organised crime in the UK We all end up paying extra taxes to compensate for the money these criminals steal and with the economic challenges being faced by everyone our focus remains relentless in bringing these conspirators to justice and to reclaim their criminal profits.”

The gang used the proceeds of their crime to purchase high value items in cash including; several UK properties worth over £1m each; performance cars including a Rolls Royce Phantom for £250,000 and a Ferrari for £165,000; and a property in Spain valued at over £1million

The HMRC operation involved investigations in China, Taiwan, India, Italy, Denmark, Germany and Belgium. HMRC investigators worked with overseas officials to follow the trail of money that had been illegally diverted out of the UK in a bid to avoid detection.

Over £8m assets have so far been restrained and confiscation proceedings are underway.