Ex copper attempted £300m VAT fraud

Tax return formTo claim back £300m in VAT is a sizeable amount - especially when racked up within eight months. How did ex copper Nigel Cranswick, 47, do it? Cranswick, the director of a company tagged Ideas 2 Go, claimed to have bought and sold £2bn in computers and phones. The aim was to claim back a huge sum of money from HM Revenue & Customs, making an absolute fortune in the process.

Massive sales

And all finessed from a small office in in a Sheffield business park. The ex officer from the South Yorkshire Police ran up a few expensive items within a few weeks of trading - a villa in Spain, furniture, garden landscaping. Even teeth bleaching expenses.

Yet Cranswick and sister, Clare Reid, had no experience of running a business on such a scale - sales of more than £500m within the first six weeks of trading were claimed. Nor did family colleagues, including Cranswick's brother in law, a former rail track maintenance operator.

Despite this they covered their tracks well. HMRC investigators took the best part of five years to unravel the complex web of false accounting and paperwork. Cranswick and Co have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month.

"Carousel fraud"

Fraud like this can be called "carousel fraud". That is, importing and exporting goods while re-claiming the VAT. It's a large problem with the European Union; some place the total EU fraud cost at up to €100bn a year; a huge loss of public revenue.

Yet there's little EU-level coordination of VAT rates or information exchange: multiple border crossings; different VAT rates across different states; lax customs control.

That doesn't answer how a one-time policeman from Yorkshire led the HMRC such a dance for almost five years.
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