Sarah Panitzke: UK’s ‘most wanted woman’ jailed over VAT fraud

A woman once described as “one of Britain’s most-wanted” fugitives has been jailed for eight years for her part in a £1bn money laundering scam.

Sarah Panitzke spent nine years on the run when she fled during her trial in May 2013 for a £1bn mobile phone tax scam. She became the only woman on the National Crime Agency’s list of most-wanted fugitives after fleeing the country to Spain.

After being arrested earlier this year and extradited, she appeared at Kingston crown court in London on Friday. Judge Sarah Plaschkes said her term should start immediately after her appearance in court.

The 48-year-old, from York, had been charged with conspiracy to acquire criminal property in relation to her role in a multi-million pound VAT fraud in 2010.

The organised crime group bought cheap mobile phones abroad without VAT, before selling them into Britain for profit. A jury found Panitzke guilty in her absence in 2013, and she was sentenced to eight years.

HMRC said that she had played a “pivotal role” in the fraud and laundered “extraordinary volumes” of stolen money.

Nearly nine years after being sentenced, she was arrested in February in a joint operation with Spanish police while walking her dog in the Tarragona region of Spain. Sy had been living an hour from Barcelona.

Panitzke and the 17 other defendants found guilty were given sentences totalling 135 years for the fraud. She will have to serve four years before being eligible for parole.

A £2.4m confiscation order was made against her in 2016, however nothing has ever been paid off the sum, so that interest meant the total now stands at £3.4m.

National Crime Agency international deputy director Tom Dowdall said Panitzke had been on their most wanted list for a decade and her jailing was the result of “years of hard work”.

Simon York from HMRC’s fraud investigation service said: “Sarah Panitzke was one of Britain’s most-wanted tax fugitives.

“She played a pivotal role in a multimillion-pound VAT fraud and moved millions through offshore bank accounts.

“Panitzke thought she had put herself outside of the reach of HMRC, but through our work with UK law enforcement and international partners we have tracked down another tax fugitive. No tax criminal is beyond our reach.

“We have helped secure the return of more than 60 fugitives since 2016, including some of the UK’s most-harmful tax cheats.”

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