More than 80 Customs and Excise officers made a nationwide dawn raid in connection with a multi-million-pound computer component VAT missing trader fraud last week.
Twelve men were arrested and later released on bail until February, after business and domestic addresses across the UK were searched in the crackdown, codenamed 'Operation Devout'.
The stolen VAT is alleged to be from the sale of computer chips, and the subsequent purchase and sale of large amounts of gold bullion. In one 25-day period, the fraudsters are believed to have pocketed about £25m.
John Healey MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said in a statement that missing trader fraud costs the UK about £2.5bn a year.
"VAT missing trader fraud is not a victimless crime. It lines the pockets of criminals and robs the honest tax-payer," he said.
"The measures in place to tackle missing trader fraud are in the interests of all legitimate businesses because the fraud distorts competition and forces legitimate traders out of business."
A Customs representative was unable to comment further while the investigation continued.
Tackling missing trader scams has become a priority for Customs. Earlier this year it won a landmark tribunal case against component wholesaler Bond House Systems, an unwitting participant in a case of missing trader fraud.
The firm was made to pay £13m to Customs. The victory demonstrated how businesses that unknowingly become involved in VAT fraud can become liable.
Alan Norton, head of intelligence at Graydon, said channel players should increase vigilance. "Missing trader fraud involves large sums of money," he said.
"Customs can go as high up in the chain as the vendor to recoup its money. I advise firms not only to beware of who they sell to, but of where they buy from. If the goods are unusually cheap, listen to the warning bells."
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