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Gang Brian Murray, Ross Bell, Lonnie Smith and Garry Salter convicted of 'missing trader' VAT fraud for mobile phone firm

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Members of an organised crime gang from Thanet have been convicted of involvement in a £30 million “missing trader” VAT fraud.

Brian Murray and Ross Bell, from Ramsgate, were the directors of Amber Communications Management Ltd (ACM), which imported mobile phones and computer chips from Europe and the United States.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators shut down the multi-million pound fraud after stopping attempts by ACM to claim VAT repayments worth more than £18 million.

Brian Murray and Lonnie Smith
Brian Murray and Lonnie Smith

Also involved were company secretary Lonnie Smith, from Margate, and a London-based employee, Garry Salter, who carried out day-to-day trading activities.

The fraud worked by selling the phones and chips in the UK along a contrived supply chain before ACM exported the goods to Switzerland or Dubai.

The traders at the start of the chain, meanwhile – which were in some cases set up purely to commit the fraud – invariably failed to pay the VAT they had charged on the original supply.

HMRC’s John Cooper said: “This gang stole vast amounts of money they neither earned nor deserved, all at the expense of honest people.

“They did this to fund the purchase of shares, high-end vehicles, a boat and property in Dubai.

Ross Bell and Garry Salter
Ross Bell and Garry Salter

“We also found evidence that the gang had had numerous foreign holidays, withdrawn large sums of cash and made payments to family members.

“Our next priority is to seek out the gang’s assets, so that we can reclaim the proceeds of their illegal activities.”

The gang had already received £10m in fraudulent VAT repayments, however, HMRC intervention to stop further claims forced ACM to obtain an £8 million loan to keep the company operating.

This loan was supposedly from a Hong Kong-based finance company, but inquiries revealed that the backer was itself involved in the fraudulent trading.

All four had denied cheating the public revenue and money laundering offences during their trial at Kingston Crown Court. They will be sentenced in April.

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