Tens of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money has been stolen and used to fund terrorist operations, an investigation by the Sunday Times has revealed.
A network of gangsters based in London, Buckinghamshire, Birmingham, north-west England and Scotland, used VAT and benefits fraud for over 20 years, with additional gains made from credit card and mortgage fraud by targeting individuals and banks. During this period, the fraudsters accumulated around £8bn in public funds alone.
The group, which is reported to have links to the 7/7 bombings in London, is accused of sending 1 per cent (£80m) of its fraudulently acquired gains to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These funds were used to operate madrasahs, training camps and other terrorist operations according to leaked documents. Money from the gang’s activities is reported to have reached the compound in Abbottabad stormed by US special forces in 2011 as part of the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden.
Investigations into the gang’s activities are ongoing and are being led by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Special Branch. As a consequence, full details cannot be revealed about the extent of the frauds committed, with court orders preventing the identities of gang members convicted on fraud charges over the last decade from being disclosed.
The investigation reveals that several mid-ranking gang members have been successfully charged with money laundering and fraud offences, resulting in jail terms totalling over 100 years for crimes that resulted in a loss of over £100m to the UK taxpayer. The scale of the fraud, combined with its links to terrorism and the ongoing levels of secrecy surrounding it has led to Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, to consider launching a parliamentary inquiry. Such an investigation would include the questioning of Sir Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary and national security advisor to the prime minister.
It is understood that officials intend to pursue charges against gang leaders and that this is the reason so little information has been made available about ongoing investigations and previous convictions in the case. Several gang leaders reportedly fled the UK before they could be arrested in the years since the first trial.
An HMRC spokesperson told the Sunday Times: “HMRC can, and does, pass information to other law enforcement agencies and the intelligence services. HMRC takes its critical role in the fight against serious organised crime and terrorism very seriously. We work side-by-side with the intelligence services, law enforcement partners, and across government, to break up criminal gangs and disrupt terror funding.
“In 2017-18 alone, we collected and protected more than £3.3 billion through our work fighting organised crime, and have brought more than 880 organised criminals to justice since 2010.”
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