Four men get 27-year sentences for £28m phone and chip fraud


Kent-based gang used company for import and export VAT fiddle

Four men have been sentenced to over 27 years in prison for their part in a £28 million “missing trader” fraud case involving mobile phones and computer chips.

The gang traded under a Kent-based company called Amber Communications Management (ACM)*, importing products to the UK from Europe and the US. However, they failed to inform UK authorities that the products were being sold on to traders in Dubai and Switzerland so that they could fraudulently claim VAT repayments of around 20 per cent from HMRC.

HMRC became suspicious after paying out £10 million to the four men – money that was spent on luxury cars including a Bentley, Rolls-Royce,  Mercedes and a BMW, as well as luxury holidays in Dubai and Florida.

When claims were made for a further £18 million, HMRC began investigating ACM, asking for documents to prove it was entitled to VAT relief. This evidence could not be provided and court proceedings began.

HMRC’s “Operation Chert” found Ross Bell (42), Brian Murray (49), Lonnie Smith (52) and Garry Slater (43) – all based in Kent at the time of the fraud – were responsible. They were all sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on April 10 following conviction in February.

Bell (pictured bottom right) was a company director of ACM and received an eight-year sentence for cheating the public revenue, and five years for money laundering, to run concurrently. He was also disqualified from being a director for eight years.

Murray (pictured top left), also a director of ACM, was sentenced to seven and a half years for cheating the public revenue and a further four and a half years for money laundering, concurrently. He was also disqualified from acting as a director for eight years.

Smith (top right) acted as company secretary for ACM and was imprisoned for six and a half years for cheating the public revenue and a further five years concurrent for money laundering. He was also disqualified from being a director for eight years.

Slater (pictured bottom left), a graphic designer, worked as a trader for ACM. He was jailed for five and a half years for cheating the public revenue.

HMRC assistant director criminal investigations John Cooper said: “This fraud made huge profits for the gang members at the expense of UK taxpayers.

“The techniques used by HMRC officers in this long and complex investigation have resulted in the successful prosecution and imprisonment of those involved. We will now seek to recover the profits of the crime.”

The tax authority managed to stop £18 million of the claimed repayments and has initiated “confiscation proceedings” to reclaim the remainder.

*Not related to Amber Communications (UK) Ltd or Amber Communications FZ LLC