UK hunts for Sh320bn tax fugitive in Tanzania

09Sep 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
UK hunts for Sh320bn tax fugitive in Tanzania

HER Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the United Kingdom’s tax authority, yesterday appealed for information about Gareth Johnson, one of the most wanted tax fugitives.

HMRC placed advertisements in newspapers yesterday about the fugitive. In March 2016, Gareth and his father were ordered by a UK court to repay 109 million pounds (about Sh320bn) of their criminal proceeds or face an extra 14 years in jail.

“Gareth Johnson is a fugitive who has links to East Africa, especially Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Mombasa,” said the advert, adding that HMRC thought Johnson could be in East Africa, possibly Kenya or Tanzania.

“If you have any information about Gareth Johnson please call the UK HMRC Fraud Hotline on +44 203 080 0871 (UK) 022 22 90397 (Tanzania),” said the advert.

He was born in Forfar, Scotland, on February 29, 1968.

Gareth is a man on the run, as he was supposed to stand trial in England for tax fraud in 2013 but failed to appear in court.

In his absence, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He has been on the run ever since.

In 2016, UK courts ordered Gareth and his dad to pay around 109 million pounds ( over 14.86 billion Kenya shillings) for their crimes or face extra jail time.

They still owe the HM Revenue and Customs that money.

Geoffrey Johnson, Gareth’s father, was arrested in Dubai this year after flying from Mombasa using a fake passport. He was taken back to the United Kingdom and sent to prison.

According to the UK courts, Gareth is supposed to be in jail for 26 years since he owes the HMRC a lot of cash.

Gareth’s father

Gareth’s father, Geoffrey Winston Johnson, is one of Britain’s most wanted tax fugitives. The man at the centre of a vast, multimillion pound tax fraud, who fled the UK in July 2014 to avoid prison, was in July deported from Dubai after being caught travelling on a fake British passport.

Johnson, 74, originally from Forfar, Angus, played a leading role in an 18-strong crime gang involved in a complex VAT fraud. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison in his absence and both he and his son were ordered to repay £109m worth of criminal proceeds.

Johnson was apprehended on Friday 7 July in Dubai after using a fake passport to travel from Kenya, where he had been lying low. As soon as his true identity was uncovered, HMRC moved quickly and assisted the Dubai authorities to secure his return to the UK to face justice.

Johnson was returned to the UK in the early hours of Thursday 13 July and appeared at Kingston Crown Court in the afternoon. He was sentenced for an additional six months for not attending his original trial and faces a total of 24 years and six months in prison.

Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“We’ve been pursuing Johnson from the day he decided to flee the UK. Despite him taking audacious measures to evade capture, we tracked him across the globe and he is now back to begin a long spell in prison. This sophisticated fraud was outright theft of money intended for important public services and it is right that he now pays the price for that crime.

“Getting him back to face justice is testament to the hard work and professionalism of HMRC investigators, who uncovered and investigated his crime and successfully tracked him down with the help of the Dubai authorities.

“Johnson is the sixth tax fugitive we have recovered from overseas this year alone. HMRC will always relentlessly pursue tax criminals and we are determined to ensure nobody is beyond our reach.”

The gang, based in Cheshire, East Sussex, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, Staffordshire, Scotland and Spain, set up a number of businesses claiming to be legitimately importing and selling mobile phones. They hid their fraud behind a complex web of transactions, but HMRC investigators discovered it was all an elaborate VAT repayment fraud.

Despite the gang going to great lengths to hide their criminal profits, HMRC investigators uncovered a series of complex transactions which they used to launder stolen money through bank accounts in the UK and further afield, including through Andorra, Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Portugal and the US. Geoffrey Johnson was instrumental in laundering the criminal proceeds of the fraud.

Rather than stand trial, Johnson, along with his son Gareth, became fugitives and fled the UK. They were sentenced to ten and 12 years in jail in their absence in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

In March 2016, they received a confiscation order for over £109 million. As they didn’t pay this, they received an additional prison sentence of 14 years which was added to their original sentences.

Johnson’s return is the latest in a spate of fugitives being caught and returned to face justice in the UK, including Lieb Berger, Wayne Hardy and Mbarak Gowie.