'Money launderers' used mobile phones as front

The Staffordshire lawyer charged with money laundering the proceeds of a £30m VAT fraud, which involved the import of mobile phones from Europe, is alleged to have laundered some of the money through a Spanish account

As revealed by The Lawyer two weeks on 11 February, Customs & Excise is bringing the case against Paul Winter Morris of four-partner AH Brooks & Co.
The prosecution claims that the bulk of the £8m amount allegedly laundered went from the client account of Morris to the Spanish account of Morris's co-defendant Raymond Woolley.
This, however, is contested by Woolley's lawyers, who will allege that the vast majority of the money was laundered from Morris's client account to one of his own clients, whose name remains undisclosed.
Woolley, who is charged with VAT fraud as well as money laundering, is remanded in custody. He is due to appear with four other men before Birmingham Crown Court in September to face the VAT fraud charges.
Morris, who is not accused of VAT fraud, can continue to practise as a lawyer, but his practising certificate is subject to an employment condition banning him from being a director or shareholder of an incorporated company. He and Woolley will appear in January to face the money laundering charges. Woolley denies all charges. Morris is yet to plea.
Woolley was arrested at Amsterdam Airport on 12 September last year, after Interpol had issued an international arrest warrant. Previously, he had been living in Spain with his family and had flown to Hong Kong on business. He was arrested on his return to Spain.
The alleged complex £30m VAT fraud involved the setting up of at least one front company, which, it is claimed, masterminded the import of £100m worth of mobile phones from Ireland and elsewhere in the EU.
As mobile phones are exempted from tax for three months following their entry into the UK, it is claimed they were then sold to a new chain of companies, each of which paid VAT to their importer. The phones were allegedly sold quickly at a lower price than they paid for them and then the front company allegedly disappeared.
However, the profit accrued from the £30m tax evasion counterbalanced the shortfall from the sale. Customs said that this sort of fraud is quite commonplace.
Anthony Harris of Garstangs is acting for Woolley. Michael Kenyon, head of regulatory fraud and investigations at Burton Copeland, is acting for Morris.