Showjumping horses seized in VAT raids: Customs to question team members

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The Independent Online
HORSES being ridden by some members of the British men's showjumping team at the Nations Cup at Rotterdam in the Netherlands this weekend are suspected of being part of an international showjumping fraud, Customs sources said yesterday.

A six-month operation, which has centred on some of the leading riders and trainers in the sport, has revealed that horses imported from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have been undervalued with false invoices to avoid paying full value-added tax.

Customs officers, assisted by special police units, seized 10 horses during raids on 22 addresses in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, London, the Home Counties, south Devon and Scotland on Wednesday. The animals were held until their owners had paid the outstanding VAT in cash. More than pounds 200,000 was handed over.

Officials investigating the fraud, which could involve hundreds of thousands of pounds, expect to seize more horses in lieu of payment when owners and trainers return from competition abroad.

A source close to the operation yesterday confirmed that several members of the six-man British team will be questioned when they come back from Rotterdam early next week, although the riders themselves are not necessarily involved.

One mount, Limited Edition, which is owned by a Berkshire couple, could be seized. A Customs spokesman said its action had been timed not to interfere with the team's participation in the event.

Sales to British trainers and showjumpers dating back to 1989 are under scrutiny. The spokesman said those guilty of evasion would be allowed to settle out of court - sums which could be double what they originally owed - in return for not being charged. The operation, codenamed Equine II, followed a tip-off to European Community states by German customs after an investigation into the trading activities of a German showjumper.

A spokeswoman for the the British Showjumping Association, the sport's governing body, said: 'We are not involved in the import or export of horses at any stage. It is a totally private arrangement.'

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