Fugitive £109m tax fraud ringleader returned to UK

One of Britain’s most wanted tax fugitives, who masterminded a £100m-plus VAT tax fraud and then fled the UK three years ago to avoid prison, has been deported from Dubai after being caught travelling with a fake British passport

Geoffrey Johnson, originally from Forfar, Angus, played a leading role in an 18-strong crime gang involved in a complex VAT fraud. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison in his absence and both he and his son were ordered to repay £109m worth of criminal proceeds.

HMRC said Johnson was apprehended in Dubai in early July after using a fake passport to travel from Kenya, where he had been lying low. He has now been returned to the UK and has appeared at Kingston Crown Court this week.

Johnson has now been sentenced for an additional six months for not attending his original trial and faces a total of 24 years and six months in prison.

Simon York, director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: ‘We’ve been pursuing Johnson from the day he decided to flee the UK. Despite him taking audacious measures to evade capture, we tracked him across the globe and he is now back to begin a long spell in prison.

‘Johnson is the sixth tax fugitive we have recovered from overseas this year alone. HMRC will always relentlessly pursue tax criminals and we are determined to ensure nobody is beyond our reach.’

The gang, based in Cheshire, East Sussex, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, Staffordshire, Scotland and Spain, set up a number of businesses claiming to be legitimately importing and selling mobile phones, which an HMRC investigation discovered to be an elaborate VAT repayment fraud.

HMRC uncovered a series of complex transactions which they used to launder stolen money through bank accounts in the UK and further afield, including through Andorra, Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Portugal and the US.

Geoffrey Johnson was instrumental in laundering the criminal proceeds of the fraud. His son Gareth, who remains a fugitive, was the principal controller behind Tectonics Holdings. HMRC said this company played an integral role in the fraud as the money laundering arm of the operation through personal UK and offshore accounts. Gareth Johnson also had control of Coast Logistics another company used in the fraud.

The investigation led to four criminal trials between 2012 and 2014. The 18 gang members were jailed for a total of 135 years, but rather than stand trial, Johnson along with his son Gareth, became fugitives and fled the UK. Johnson was given a ten-year prison sentence in his absence, while his son was served with a 12-year term.

In March 2016, they received a confiscation order for over £109m. As they failed to pay this, they then received an additional prison sentence of 14 years which was added to their original sentences.

Johnson’s return is the latest in a spate of fugitives being caught and returned to face justice in the UK, including Lieb Berger, a South African facing a £1.5m confiscation order relating to a self assessment fraud, and Wayne Hardy and Mbarak Gowie, who were both involved in illicit tobacco smuggling.

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