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Authorities failing in hunt for 'most wanted' tax dodgers who owe HMRC £844m

Campaign that publicly identified those sought has seen results, but many have fled abroad
  • @kunaldutta

The UK tax authorities have caught just seven of their 30 most wanted tax dodgers since 2012, it has emerged, as the government adds another five individuals to the list.

In 2012, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) publicly identified 20 people accused of fleeing while owing hundreds of thousands of pounds - and in many instances millions. It was the first time such a campaign had been undertaken by the agency and drew comparisons to the US Federal Bureau of Investigations, with another ten names added last year.

Five new faces on this year’s list include Ahmed Salim Khezr, an Iranian national sentenced to six years for selling non-UK duty paid cigarettes across the UK and Paul Edwards, charged with involvement in an alleged VAT-fraud who absconded on the first day of his trial. Others are Murugasan Natarajan, who is thought to have fled to India after receiving a six-year sentence last December for smuggling garlic - incorrectly declared as ginger - into the UK. HMRC say that the frauds have collectively cost the UK more than £844 million.

The appeal provided intelligence on the alleged offenders, and the whereabouts of 16 others are now known, HMRC says, with 990 prosecutions having taken place in the last year.

But authorities have punished just a third of those listed. They include John Sabin who fled to Spain after being convicted of “flooding” north East England with millions of illegal cigarettes; Magdalena Ferkova, who was returned from the Czech Republic after being convicted of tax credit and child benefit fraud and Michael Fearon, who fled to the Republic of Ireland while on trial for his involvement in smuggling nearly 8.4 million cigarettes.

Jennie Granger, HMRC’s Director General of Enforcement and Compliance, said: “These fugitives were involved in frauds that have collectively cost the UK more than £844 million but the success of our campaign means those on the run should know that HMRC will relentlessly pursue them.”