When it comes to fraudulent activity, it would see as though HMRC is a very common target. No one particularly likes paying taxes and there is an argument to say that the HMRC is extremely busy, and there is a chance that they will overlook or not be aware of any illegal activity being undertaken. In the past, a fraudster may have been unlucky if they were caught out by HMRC but in the present era, this is no longer the case, the HMRC is utilising a higher standard of investigation equipment, software and professionals, increasing the likelihood that they will be able to uncover the actions of someone who is carrying out VAT fraud.
This is the scenario that has seen a 51 year old woman sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Luisa Prior pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, a crime which saw her claim £377,000 after faking invoices which had been intended for VAT refunds. The HMRC conducted an investigation after they became suspicious of VAT refund claims that had been lodged between 2007 and 2012.
Investigators had a Number of Issues with the Forms they Received
Investigators attended at Luisa Prior’s home in June of 2013 and after she provided them with a range of invoices, stating that they were “legitimate business records”, they acted. Prior claimed to run the Brand Development and Management Ltd company, which allegedly booked advertising space in the United Kingdom for an Italian firm. However, the investigation uncovered the fact that she was producing false invoices and was also illegally claiming VAT on invoices which had reportedly been paid directly by clients.
John Cooper is an Assistant Director from the Criminal Investigation Department at the HMRC and he said; “Luisa Prior stole more than £377,000 of taxpayers’ money knowing full well that she was not entitled to claim VAT refunds. She produced false invoices in an attempt to hide the fraud. The money that she stole should have been spent on running the UK’s public services not as her personal piggy bank. This type of fraud is a serious criminal offence and today’s case will serve as a warning to others who are tempted to play the system.”
A Prison Sentence was Inevitable
Just before sentencing at the Winchester Crown Court, Recorder I Lawrie QC stated; “You have to go to prison for the calculated fraud on the Revenue. You persistently indulged in making claims over a considerable period of time.” While there have undoubtedly been fraudulent activities for higher sums of money, this is the sort of criminal activity that has an air of arrogance about it that will always see prosecutors aiming to clamp down on it. Not only does a prison sentence sufficiently punish the crime, it sends out a message that this is not an activity you should be engaging in.
The fact that HMRC have stated that they will aim to recover criminal proceeds means that there is another thing for Prior to worry about. It used to be that people undertaking a crime of this scale would know that if they could see out their time in prison, there would be a very good chance that they would be able to enjoy the proceeds of their crime after the event. This is no longer the case because with POCA hearings, there is a chance that a large proportion of the illegally obtained funds will be seized.
This is where it is important to call on the services of an experienced and professional lawyer. There is no obligation to use the same lawyer for the initial hearing as the POCA hearing and it is often best to find an expert relating to the actual case. It is likely to be better to find a solicitor that can provide experience and expertise with respect to fraud and POCA hearings because this will provide some form of continuity to the defence.
When it comes to defending against POCA hearings, there is a need to make a case for as much legally obtained earnings as possible. Anything which helps to minimise the level of money that had been obtained illegally in comparison to legitimate income will help to minimise the amount of money that someone will be ordered to pay. This is why the role of an experienced solicitor when it comes to defending against POCA charges is crucial.
Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 9 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn’t sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.