Tax investigation leads to jail term for Midlands’ businessman

A Gloucestershire businessman, who stole almost £265,000 of taxpayers’ money by claiming false VAT repayments for his web development company, has been jailed for tax fraud for three-and-a-half years.

An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed that 49 year-old Robert Steele had faked invoices and bank statements, which he used to support the fraudulent figures on VAT returns for his company, Clip and Ping Ltd. Between September 2010 and March 2014 Steele made 14 false claims for VAT repayments totalling £264,134.

The HMRC tax investigation, which began as part of the South West VAT Fraud Repayment taskforce, revealed that Steele had used the proceeds of his fraud to fund an affluent lifestyle, including paying private school fees and renting luxury homes in Gloucestershire.

Colin Spinks, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Steele lied on his VAT returns to receive money he simply wasn’t entitled to. He used taxpayers’ cash to fund a lifestyle that most people would consider privileged. He diverted money from the public purse to his own pocket and he showed little remorse for doing so.”

Steele claimed that the fake paperwork, including sales and purchase invoices, had been prepared by a colleague in Beijing but HMRC found no evidence to support this. The jury took just 35 minutes to find Steele, who represented himself at court, guilty of five counts of fraud.

Steele was jailed for three-and-a-half years at Gloucester Crown Court on 19 February 2016. He was also suspended from holding a company directorship for seven years.

Judge Alastair McGrigor, Assistant Judge Advocate General, commented: “The fraud was over a substantial period and with significant planning.”

He added that Steele was “self-delusional” and had “concocted a business model which purported to be capitalised by angel investors”. The Judge concluded that the fraud “involved £265,000 that did not go to its proper destination”.

Dr Anjulika Salhan, a director and tax investigation specialist with Salhan Accountants commented: “HMRC has become extremely litigious in recent years and their enhanced criminal investigation powers can result in substantial fines as well as lengthy prison sentences.

“We have represented a number of individuals who, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves in breach of HMRC regulations. As with all HMRC matters, tax investigations need to be dealt with as a matter of urgency in order to mitigate any resulting penalties.”

At Salhan Accountants, we work extremely hard for clients subjected to a taxation investigation. We not only clarify the issues and the process, but come up with solutions too. Our experience, professional reputation, forensic attention to detail and negotiating skills mean we are well-placed to achieve positive outcomes. Whether an individual or company, talking to us is your best step towards addressing a taxation investigation and moving on with your life. For more information about our taxation investigation services, please contact us.