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Blackburn's platinum trio gets 17 years for £4.5m VAT fraud
PRECIOUS metal traders who defrauded the taxman out of £4.5million in VAT in a ‘calculated’ and ‘greedy’ crime have been jailed for a total of 17 years.
The Blackburn-based gang used luxury hire cars to collect weekly consignments of platinum flown into Britain from Italy.
The conspirators then used three companies, including Regal Metals, in Penny Street, Blackburn and KB Jewellers, in Churchill Street, Blackburn, to sell on the platinum before liquidating the businesses to hide any trace of wrongdoing.
Mohammed Shabir Karim, 40, of Billinge End Road, Blackburn; Imran Bhatti, 38, of Brooklands Terrace, Blackburn; his brother Kamran Bhatti, 40, of Churchill Road, Blackburn and Raymond Bowden, 69, of Barrington Road, Altrincham, were all found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the Revenue.
Liverpool Crown Court heard the gang bought the precious metal VAT-free, had it processed to reduce its purity and then brought to the UK where it was sold to a legitimate customer in London with 17.5 per cent VAT added to the price.
However the gang then pocketed the VAT which had been paid.
The court heard the gang cheated the Customs and Revenue out of just over £4.5 million during a two-year fraud and deliberately hid the fraud by destroying business records.
The gang was caught after a painstaking investigation by HM Revenue & Customs.
Yesterday, Judge Robery Warnock sentenced the Blackburn men to a combined 17 years behind bars after telling them it was 'a well orchestrated and cynical VAT fraud’.Sentencing Mohammed Karim to seven years in jail, Judge Waynard said: "This fraud was implemented by you. You were the controlling mind who financially helped start up the fraud.
"You are manipulative and chose your lieutenants carefully.
"I have no doubt your motivation was greed. You were thoroughly selfish and calculated."
Karim is the son of murdered jewellers Mohammed and Bilquis Karim, from Little Harwood in Blackburn.
The bodies of the couple were found by their sons after a burglary at the jewellers they owned in Church Street, Preston in 1999.
Both Bhatti brothers were said to be essential cogs in the fraud and were sentenced to five years each in prison.
All three men were also disqualified from running another company, Karim for eight years and the Bhatti brothers for four years each.
A serious crime prevention order was also passed banning the men from holding any other business or personal bank account in any other name than their own and forcing them to notify HMRC if they wanted to get involved in another VAT registered company for four years after serving their sentence.
Alan Lee, HMRC director of criminal investigation, said: “Their customers were paying VAT on items they bought but the metal traders were not declaring it. They simply pocketed the cash for their own personal gain.
“Tax fraud and attempts to launder the proceeds of crime are treated extremely seriously by HMRC, and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or crime gangs believed to be attacking the public revenue in this way.”
Raymond Bowden who absconded in the second week of the eight week trial will be sentenced at a later date when he is found.
A warrant for his arrest has been issued by the court.
A fifth man Raymond Mancini, 65, of Division Lane, Blackpool was cleared of the same charge.