THIS is the moment a Blackpool antiques dealer was snared in a £4.5m scam.
Raymond Bowden, a well known trader in antiques and metal in Lytham and Blackpool, was one of the “front-men” of a gang importing platinum ingots from Italy.
The multi-million pound fraud – which involved the metal trading gang pocketing cash which should have been declared as VAT – was uncovered by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Bowden, formerly of Salop Avenue, Bispham, acted as a courier, picking up shipments of one kilo ingots at UK airports and delivering them in luxurious hire cars to other members of the gang who he met through a mutual friend.
The 69-year-old, whose part in the scam generated about £1.4m of the total fraud value, was caught red-handed during surveillance carried out through a HMRC investigation called Operation Snowbank.
Bowden absconded during his trial in July and went on the run in Blackpool before handing himself in this week.
Mike O’Grady, HM Revenue and Customs director of criminal investigation, said: “Our officers identified suspicious trading between several North West companies in 2006 and 2007. Their customers were paying VAT on items they bought but the metal traders were not declaring it.
“Bowden was found guilty of cheating the revenue in his absence at the original trial and a warrant was issued for his arrest while he was on the run.
“The court was going to sentence him in his absence on Monday but he decided to turn up and surrender himself at the court hearing.”
Bowden has now been jailed for five years and banned from being a company director.
The pensioner, who lived in Bispham until 2000 before moving to Altrincham, was also handed a Serious Crime Prevention Order, which can restrict his future employment or business deals, at Liverpool Crown Court.
Judge Robert Warnock said: “Bowden’s was a totally dishonest act. He was one of the front men for the large-scale £4.5m VAT fraud for which his business alone was directly responsible for £1.4m.”
Bowden’s co-conspirators were jailed for between five and seven years after also being found guilty of cheating the revenue.
Shabir Karim, 40, of Billinge End Road, Blackburn, was sentenced to seven years in jail, Kamran Bhatti, 40, of Churchill Road, Blackburn, was jailed for five years and Imran Bhatti, 39, of Brooklands Terrace, Blackburn, was sentenced to five years in jail.
A confiscation hearing will be held next year for all the gang members.
Alan Lee, HMRC director of criminal investigation, said: “The men simply pocketed the cash for their own personal gain.
“Tax fraud and attempts to launder the proceeds of crime are treated extremely seriously by HMRC, and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or crime gangs believed to be attacking the public revenue in this way.”