A convicted fraudster from Lancashire, who was part of a VAT repayment fraud involving fake construction companies, must repay more than £2.2 million.
Salim Sakaria, 46, of Preston, was one of the key players in an 11-strong crime gang that attempted to steal £4.2 million between 2009 and 2011. But the fraud unravelled after a long and complex criminal investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
The gang, led by Sakaria, set up 19 fake construction companies, used ‘puppet’ directors, fake invoices and bogus building contracts for housing developments as a smokescreen to hide their criminal activity.
People were paid up to £35,000 to act as directors and allow the gang to use their names and addresses for the bogus companies to claim illegal VAT refunds. Twenty companies were repaid £2,932,084 for fake VAT claims before HMRC froze repayments.
Voice recognition technology showed Sakaria contacted HMRC by phone about the fraudulent VAT repayments.
On 11 April 2017, Salim Sakaria was ordered to repay £2,276,149 within three months or serve a further compulsory seven and a half years in jail as a default sentence.
Sakaria, who worked at Forte Accountants in Preston, lied about being an accountant. HMRC investigators found that as well as owning six properties in the Preston area valued at £408,464, a designer watch and a Mercedes Benz car, he had almost £2 million in cash generated by the fraud some of which had been transferred to Dubai.
HMRC investigators arranged a restraint of Sakaria’s assets while the confiscation proceedings progressed through the courts. Any sale of the restrained assets will now be used to fund the confiscation payment.