Irish tycoon agrees to pay £18m after VAT fraud investigation

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The Independent Online

A London-based Irish businessman has agreed to pay more than £18m to criminal assets recovery agencies in Britain and Ireland following long-running investigations into international VAT fraud.

Dylan Creaven, who made a fortune in a computer-chip business while in his 20s, has also agreed to hand over four racehorses and a villa in Marbella to the British and Irish authorities.

The deal, which he agreed after years of legal proceedings, represents the biggest haul yet achieved by the agencies, based in England and Dublin, which have widespread powers to seize illegally obtained monies.

It is not known exactly how much of his fortune Mr Creaven, 32, will retain. At various times it was reported that he had cash or property in the US, Britain and Dubai. One of the horses he has agreed to hand over is Latino Magic, winner of the prestigious Galway Hurdle in 2005.

The type of fraud investigated by the agencies is known as "carousel" fraud since it typically involves the repeated import and export of small but high-value goods such as computer chips and mobile phones.

The avoidance of VAT is now on a scale which is causing concern throughout Europe, and has been described as one of the largest threats to the EU's taxation system.

Mr Creaven, originally from Ennis in Co Clare, is thought to still have a mansion there. His company, Silicon Technologies Europe Ltd, had offices in Boston and Singapore. The British authorities have claimed that 99 per cent of the company's business involved fraudulent trades.

The organisations involved in pursuing Mr Creaven are the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) in Britain and the Dublin-based Criminal Assets Bureau, both of which have recovered millions of pounds from criminal elements in previous cases.

The ARA said yesterday that the case represented the first time it had used "the mediation route". This involves bargaining and negotiation with individuals under suspicion, a method which in the Creaven case has clearly produced financial results on a major scale.

The ARA said that Mr Creaven had agreed to hand over the money, the racehorses and the villa "having been presented with the evidence compiled by ARA and CAB". Jane Earl, director of the ARA, said: "This case, our largest result so far, demonstrates the power of civil recovery legislation in taking away the fruits of unlawful activity. A proportion of the money stolen from the taxpayer through VAT fraud will be returned to the public purse.

"Working with our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland, we have been able to ensure that there are no hiding places for assets at home or abroad."

Mr Creaven has been in trouble with the law since 2002, when he was arrested by police in Britain investigating large-scale tax evasion. He spent almost a year in custody before being granted bail.

In May last year a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court found him not guilty of organising what was described as Britain's biggest VAT fraud. After his acquittal he wept in court, saying he was "distraught" at being prosecuted.

In 2004, in the Supreme Court in Ireland he successfully had search warrants overturned, and documents which had been seized were either returned to him or destroyed.

The British and Irish agencies had developed a track record of co-operating with each other. This is particularly the case in Northern Ireland, where the local arm of the ARA has pursued not only criminal gangs and individuals but also those with paramilitary associations.