Construction boss jailed for £6.9m payroll fraud

Grant Prior 3 years ago
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A construction boss is among three Kent men jailed for a total of 19 years for stealing £6.9m in taxes to fund their lavish lifestyles.

Co-conspirators Aquil Ahmed, 60, an accountant; Victor Shearer, 43, a construction services company director; and Christopher Azzopardi, 37, a payroll administrator employed by Ahmed ran the con for two-and-a-half years

They cheated HM Revenue and Customs of VAT, Income Tax, National Insurance Contributions and Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions.

The men attempted to hide their fraud by using a complex network of companies and bank accounts in the UK and offshore. But their crimes were uncovered by investigators from HMRC.

Ahmed employed Azzopardi to operate payroll services for clients through his various ‘Keepers’ companies, supposedly calculating wages and paying any tax due to HMRC through the PAYE and CIS systems.

Clients were charged VAT on these services, but neither the VAT nor the PAYE and CIS deductions were paid across to HMRC.

Shearer’s company, Leaner Logistics, supplies short-term contractors to the construction industry, mainly in London and the South East.

Often providing hundreds of workers at a time, Shearer turned to Ahmed’s Keepers companies to run his payroll and CIS.

Over time, Shearer introduced other clients to the payroll company, who also used this fraudulent scheme.

But rather than pay the tax and National Insurance to HMRC, the three men stole the money to fund Ahmed and Shearer’s lavish lifestyles.

Ahmed owned a Bentley; bought properties in the UK, USA and Turkey; and took multiple foreign holidays, including trips to Dubai and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Shearer was also found guilty of laundering his £1.2m cut through a bank account in Gibraltar.

The court heard how vast sums were spent by Shearer, through bank transfers, cash withdrawals and by debit card, on property and high-living, ski holidays, cars and treating friends, family and clients.

Chris Gill, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These men were driven by greed, abusing systems that are designed to ensure workers are paid correctly and taxes paid to HMRC.

“They were all professionals who knew they were breaking the law, but as an accountant Ahmed was in a position of trust, making his part in the conspiracy even more deplorable.

“These criminals thought they’d created a sophisticated fraud, and that by operating through numerous UK and offshore companies, they could hide what they were doing.

“But our investigations are thorough, and with assistance from authorities in Gibraltar, we unravelled the many layers they’d created and they are now paying the price for their crimes.

Ahmed, Azzopardi and Shearer were sentenced to 7 years 8 months, 4 years and 7 years 6 months imprisonment, respectively, when they appeared at Maidstone Crown Court last week.

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