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Gang bought gold bars after £1.3m Defra fraud

Members of an international gang who bought gold bars and luxury cars after laundering almost £1.3m stolen from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were jailed yesterday.

They were convicted after details of a payee account on the Government department's database were altered to divert cash into a bogus account.

Leeds Crown Court heard that the gang laundered £1.28m and treated themselves to a Porsche 911 and a Range Rover Vogue and bought £830,000-worth of gold

The four, who lived in various parts of Britain, were sentenced to a total of more than eight years in jail after they each pleaded guilty to money laundering. Robert Cann, 70, of Altrincham, Cheshire, was jailed for 15 months, Paul Tinsley, 37, of Stoke-on-Trent, two years and two months. Paul Edwards, 30, of Newcastle-under-Lyme, three years and three months, and Thomas Cottam, 54, of Conwy, North Wales, 21 months.

Detective Inspector Ian Wills, of North Yorkshire Police's Financial Investigation Unit, said after the sentencing: "This was a sophisticated attack on the Defra payments system. The four men sentenced were not the controlling minds behind the fraud but they each played their role in the conspiracy."

The convictions followed a long-running investigation by North Yorkshire Police and HM Revenue and Customs officers. Police said all the men belonged to an organised crime group based in the Stoke-on-Trent area and Portugal.

Police have recovered the two vehicles purchased with the cash. Several other men await sentencing.