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VAT fraudster jailed for 11 years after extradition from Cyprus

A businessman who was one of Britain's most wanted tax fugitives has been jailed for more than 11 years for a multimillion-pound tax fraud.

Michael Voudouri, 46, of Bridge of Allan, Stirling, pleaded guilty in October 2012 to laundering a total of £11.6 million through foreign and domestic banks, company accounts and individuals between 2001 and 2004 as part of a VAT scam.

But he failed to show up for sentencing in a Scottish court the following month and it emerged that he had fled to northern Cyprus.

He remained in the republic until he was tracked down, extradited and returned to Scotland last month.

He was jailed for a total of 11 years and six months when he appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh today.

Voudouri was locked up for 10 years for the charges relating to what the judge described as a "complex money-laundering operation". He was also jailed for an additional 18 months for failing to appear in court in 2012.

Judge Lord Tyre told Voudouri, who has a previous conviction for VAT fraud: "In my view, the offences which you committed fall towards the upper end of the scale of seriousness, both in relation to the very large sums involved and in relation to the complexity and sophistication of the laundering arrangements which you were responsible for directing, along with others."

Voudouri was initially charged with laundering more than £48 million but ultimately pleaded guilty to charges relating to sums of over £10.3 million and £1.2 million.

The court heard the charges arose from an investigation by the tax authorities of a suspected "carousel" VAT fraud being perpetrated through a company called Q-Tech Distribution Ltd, which had premises in Glasgow.

"This was a complex money-laundering operation," Lord Tyre told Voudouri.

"The sums of money which you, and others acting with you, transferred from Q-Tech's bank account to accounts with banks in Cyprus, Greece, Switzerland and elsewhere were very large indeed."

The judge went on: "You instructed the formation of companies in Delaware and in the British Virgin Islands to further conceal the true source and ownership of these funds.

"Eventually some of those funds found their way back to Scotland, to be used by you, among other things, for the purchase of a house in Bridge of Allan and to fund a designer clothes business in Stirling.

"Again, you made use of third parties to conceal your personal financial interest in these assets."

Voudouri faced a maximum penalty of 14 years for the laundering offences. The court heard he was previously jailed for four years in 2004 for VAT fraud.

Voudouri today admitted a single charge under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act over his failure to appear in court to face justice in 2012.

"This was clearly a pre-meditated decision to abscond to avoid punishment for the offences to which you had pled guilty," said Lord Tyre.

"Your decision to abscond to northern Cyprus caused a great deal of trouble and expense in, first of all, attempting to trace your whereabouts and, subsequently, having you brought back to this jurisdiction. I regard this, too, as a serious offence."

The court also imposed a Financial Reporting Order (FRO) against Voudouri for a 15-year period, a move which helps the authorities monitor the financial affairs of an accused after conviction.

The Crown Office said the investigation into Voudouri's money-laundering was on a global scale.

Lindsey Miller, procurator fiscal for organised crime and counter terrorism, said: "After an extremely complex investigation, today we have seen justice delivered to an individual who participated in money laundering on an industrial scale and who has gone to great lengths to escape the Scottish authorities.

"The criminal investigation into Voudouri's money-laundering was on a global scale, with the Crown's economic crime unit gathering evidence from companies and financial institutions in the UK, Greece, Cyprus, Switzerland, the United States and the British Virgin Islands."

Speaking on his client's behalf outside court, lawyer Aamer Anwar raised questions about the actions of HMRC in this case.

He also called on the Crown to explain "why 19 key individuals involved in the tax fraud have never faced justice".

"I have instructed Mr Anwar to lodge an appeal against my conviction," the lawyer said in a statement on Voudouri's behalf.

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