Preacher ‘Lord’ jailed for £51m VAT fraud

A man who worked as a law lecturer and a lay preacher and bought the title of Lord Houghton, was jailed for 10 years for his part in a major conspiracy to steal £51 million in a sophisticated VAT fraud.
 
An intense investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) uncovered his role as the main player in the elaborate scam, in what has become known as carousel or ‘missing trader’ fraud, and to launder the proceeds of crime. This involved the dishonest manipulation of the VAT system through the import and export regime, principally of mobile phones over an eighteen month period.

At the time of his arrest Edwards-Sayer was lecturing in law at South East Derbyshire College. He was also a part-time lay preacher with the diocese of Southwell.

Nick Burriss Director of Operations, Criminal Investigation, for HMRC said:

"This was not some kind of victimless crime, but organised fraud on a massive scale perpetrated by criminals all bent on making fast and easy profits at the expense of the British taxpayer. This was theft of revenue needed to fund our country’s public services. Missing trader fraud is not merely a paper fraud but often features links to other forms of serious and organised crime which brings devastation to our communities. This case is a further example of our determination and success in bringing to justice the criminals behind this type of fraud. The sentence will send out a clear message to others who may contemplate such criminal activity."

The fraud involved the purported import of mobile phones and computer chips from various EU countries, VAT free. The goods would then be sold on more cheaply, but with VAT added, through a chain of companies. Once the goods had been sold on a number of times they would be exported back to EU countries. The companies would then default or go ‘missing’ before making their VAT repayments to HMRC.

On sentencing, His Honour Judge Teare said "You were diligent and dedicated in carrying out this fraud. You persisted in defrauding the nation and offered these services to others to help them commit fraud. You are a 49 year old adult and when you look back at your lifetime, it’s filled with crime." He added, "I commend HMRC investigation officers for their hard work in this complex investigation."

Edwards-Sayer also bought a Lordship in the name of Lord Houghton and attempted to open offshore accounts in this name.

While on remand he received a six months prison sentence for Contempt of Court in October 2005 for 18 breaches of a Restraint Order. These breaches included using the accounts belonging to his parents.

A confiscation order has been applied for and will be heard next year.

A Newark woman, Rachel Horton, previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced for laundering £1 million of the fraud under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

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