Crime doesn't pay as £2.2m seized from former Preston accountant over VAT fraud

Manchester Crown
Manchester Crown
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The mastermind of a VAT repayment fraud involving fake construction companies, must repay more than £2.2m of his ill gotten gains, a court has ruled.

Salim Sakaria, 46, of Great Avenham Street, Preston, was one of the key players in an 11-strong crime gang that attempted to steal £4.2 million between 2009 and 2011.

Sakaria, who worked at Forte Accountants in Preston - and lied about being an accountant - is set to lose six properties in Bank Parade, Great Avenham Street, Selbourne Street, Acregate Lane, Roman Road and Rutland Street in Preston as well as his Mercedes and designer watch, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.

The gang set up 19 bogus firms and used ‘puppet’ directors, fake invoices and bogus building contracts for developments as a smokescreen.

People were paid up to £35,000 to allow them to use their details for bogus companies to claim illegal VAT refunds.

Twenty companies were repaid £2,932,084 for fake VAT claims and voice recognition technology showed Sakaria contacted HMRC by phone about the fraudulent repayments.

He must repay £2,276,149 within three months or serve a further seven and a half years in jail.

Sakaria was sentenced to five years in October 2014 and a further three years for orchestrating an “honour-based” street attack on a sex offender over his relationship with Sakaria’s relative.

Junaid Bhuta had been convicted in 2010 of raping a 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook - though an appeal judge agreed the girl could pass for 16 and gave him a discharge.