Seven men have been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison between them after being found guilty of VAT carousel fraud resulting from sales of counterfeit Microsoft software.
The men – four from Surrey, two from Hampshire and one from Essex – appeared at Kingston Crown Court last week and were found guilty of £3.7m VAT evasion and money laundering following a lengthy investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
The ringleaders – Alexander Bell, Jonathan Bell and John Palmer – were also disqualified from acting as company directors under the Company Directors Disqualification Act for up to eight years. HMRC discovered the three men had been involved in running IT companies, a number of which were proven to have traded in unauthorised Microsoft software.
In addition, hundreds of counterfeit Microsoft Certificates of Authenticity were found at the Surrey home of Alexander Bell. The Court also heard evidence during the sentencing that Bell had kept six figure sums of cash at his home and that he had burned all documents relating to the investigation.
Michala Alexander, UK head of anti-piracy at Microsoft, said: “We are delighted to see justice prevail in this case because the longer the likes of Bell and Palmer remain in the business, the more the profitability of our legitimate resellers is jeopardised. It is for this reason that we take any and all steps to work with HMRC and the police.”
Robert Gray, assistant chief investigation officer at HMRC, said: “Tackling missing trader income tax fraud is HMRC’s top priority. It is the theft of essential public revenue by organised criminal gangs and it is a European-wide problem. The sentences handed down demonstrate the gravity with which the courts view this crime.”
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