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Tue June 15 2021

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HMRC warns on payroll scams after jail sentences

25 Oct 16 HM Revenue & Customs is warning businesses to ensure that they carry our due diligence checks before appointing a payroll company to act on their behalf.

Victor Shearer, managing director of Leaner Logistics, sentenced to seven and a half years
Victor Shearer, managing director of Leaner Logistics, sentenced to seven and a half years

The warning follows prison sentences handed down to three men, including a construction boss, who stole £6.9m in UK taxes.

For two and a half years, co-conspirators Victor Shearer, 43, a construction services company director, Aquil Ahmed, 60, an accountant, and Christopher Azzopardi, 37, a payroll administrator employed by Ahmed, defrauded HMRC of VAT, income tax, national insurance contributions and construction industry scheme (CIS) deductions. Workers of companies using the payroll services thought the taxes were being paid to HMRC.

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

Ahmed employed Christopher 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.

Victor Shearer’s company, Leaner Logistics, supplies short-term contractors to the construction industry, mainly in London and the southeast. Often providing hundreds of workers at a time, Shearer used 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.

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. The court heard Azzopardi was in debt. Ahmed paid him around £60,000 a year, double a usual bookkeeper’s wage, for his role in the fraud. No tax was paid on his salary.

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Ahmed was arrested in May 2012 and later charged with conspiring to cheat the public revenue, contrary to common law and money laundering. Azzopardi was arrested in January 2013 and Shearer in May 2013. They were charged with conspiring to cheat the public revenue. Shearer was charged with money laundering.

They were sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court on Friday 21st October 2016.

Aquil Shabbir Ahmed, a management accountant of St Leonards Street, West Malling, Kent, had pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. He was jailed for seven years and eight months and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years. He pleaded not guilty to money laundering.

Victor Craig Shearer of Discovery Drive, Kings Hill, Kent was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and one count of money laundering. He was jailed for seven years six months and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.

Christopher James Azzopardi of Church Road, Swanscombe, Kent was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. He was jailed for four years.

Chris Gill, assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “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.”

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