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21 August 2013, 12:58 | Updated: 21 August 2013, 13:10
Four members of a Southampton-based organised crime gang, who stole more than 3,000 identities in an attempt to defraud at least £2 million of Income Tax repayments, have been jailed.
The four men, all Eastern Europeans who live in Southampton and London, played different roles in the fraud against HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by submitting false Self Assessment tax repayment claims using stolen and hijacked
The gang stole the identities of people who answered their classified adverts offering the possibility of work, and also created identities based on contact details found in other classified notices. Those whose identities were hijacked were mainly Polish people living in the UK, often London-based builders and construction workers looking for work or advertising their business services.
The gang's fake adverts appeared in a UK-based magazine aimed at Eastern Europeans.
One of the gang, Lyubomyr Sytaiylo, had been a tax agent. After he turned to crime a number of unsuspecting people who contacted him for tax assistance also had their identities hijacked and used by the fraudsters.
Zoe Ellerbeck, HMRC Assistant Director Criminal Investigation, said:
"This was a blatant, highly-organised attack to defraud the UK tax system of vast sums of money using the stolen identities of unsuspecting people. During our four-year investigation we discovered the gang hijacked at least 3,000 different identities
in an attempt to claim money they weren't entitled to.
"HMRC officers, working closely with local police forces, were able to stop over £1.3 million claimed by the fraudsters being paid out.
"Tackling organised crime is a priority for us and we ask anyone with information about people involved in tax fraud to
contact the Tax Evasion Hotline on 0800 788 887."
After an identity was chosen, the fraudsters would fly friends and acquaintances from Lithuania into the UK to open bank accounts and create taxpayer identities in hijacked names. When their job was done these identity mules were allowed to return home.
The gang attempted to claim at least £2 million from HMRC, but over £1.3 million was withheld when officers checking repayment claims became suspicious. The true extent of the fraud and number of identities stolen may never be known,
but it is estimated that the gang carried out at least 1,300 separate attempted fraudulent attacks on HMRC.
The court heard that Lyubomyr Sytaiylo and Ruslanas Bonrovas ran the fraudulent operation. Besik Zveiba managed the operation and controlled the identity mules brought into the UK.
Kardo Anderson was responsible for assisting the people who entered the UK and ensuring the accounts were
The HMRC investigation began after Dorset Police uncovered an apparent fraud factory in Knyveton Road, Bournemouth, in February 2009, as part of a separate operation into a bail offence.
Police found evidence including a number of Eastern European identity documents and hundreds of HMRC forms in different names.
Joint HMRC and Dorset Police enquires followed, with officers searching the then home of Lyubomyr Sytaiylo in the exclusive Sandbanks area of Poole on 5 June 2009. Sytaiylo was not at home, but evidence uncovered at his rented Dorset address suggested he was in charge of an organised crime gang.
The fraud took place between January 2006 and August 2011. The court heard that during the period of the fraud there were threats made between gang members.
Besik Zveiba, 41, and Kardo Anderson, 26, were found guilty by jury at Southampton Crown Court on 2 July 2013 of
conspiracy to cheat the revenue. On 26 April 2013 Ruslanas Bontovas, 37, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to
cheat the revenue. Lyubomyr Sytaiylo, 39, pleaded guilty in March 2013 to the conspiracy.
The four men received jail sentences totalling 22½ years.
Upon sentencing, His Honour Judge Peter Henry, said:
"This was a large scale conspiracy to cheat the revenue over five years. It was not particularly sophisticated, it was nonetheless outrageous. It was straightforward in concept, but needed a great deal of planning.
"This case is one in my view of serious organised crime."
Confiscation proceedings will follow.
Two other people were found not guilty of all charges on 2 July 2013. A seventh person arrested in March 2011 failed to answer bail.