UK tax fugitive loses battle against 12-year jail term after appeal fails

Adam Umerji fled the UK in 2009 but continued to fight tax fraud conviction from the UAE

One of Britain's most-wanted tax fugitives has lost an appeal against a 12-year jail term for a multi-million-pound scam in the latest twist in the long-running legal battle.

Adam Umerji, 43, was convicted a decade ago over a fraud involving duty paid on mobile phones that was said to have deprived the UK taxpayer of £64 million ($88.8m).

Umerji has not been appeared in person in court since he was charged in 2009 but has instructed legal firms from his base in Dubai and successfully challenged an attempt at extradition.

His latest attempt to quash his conviction was dismissed on Friday by three judges from the Court of Appeal. “The interests of justice would be gravely prejudiced” if his application was allowed because of his absence from Britain for 12 years, the judgment said. Umerji, who is also known as Shafiq Patel, was said to be a leading figure in the tax fraud that ran for nine months until June 2006.

The scam was said to involve the fraudulent claiming of £30m in tax rebates in an international mobile phone trading operation.

Known as carousel fraud, it involves buying goods from the European Union without paying tax and then selling them at tax-added prices without reimbursing the authorities for the lost revenue.

Investigators discovered a string of fictitious businesses and traders involved in Umerji’s operation. They found that he had no storage facilities and no distribution network in the UK for his claimed import-export phone business.

The investigators found that all the companies connected to hundreds of deals involving the phones used the banking facilities of the notorious lender, the First Curacao International Bank. It was suspected of running services for the carousel fraud industry and closed down by Dutch authorities in 2006.

Hundreds of suspected carousel fraudsters had accounts at the bank that offered anonymity and fast transfers for criminals to build a false paper trail of trading that allowed them to fraudulently claim tax rebates.

Proceeds of the crime ended up in bank accounts outside the UK controlled by Umerji and his accomplice Abdullah Allad. Investigators were able to track money to accounts linked to the two men.

Umerji was arrested by British police in 2007 but declined to comment to investigators. He skipped the country within a couple of years.

Umerji and Allad were sentenced in their absence to 12 years in prison in 2011. Umerji’s brother and two other men pleaded guilty and received shorter sentences.

Despite being on the run, the pair appealed against the convictions. The verdicts were quashed on a technicality in 2014 and a retrial ordered.

The British authorities sought the extradition of the two men for the second trial. Under a 2008 agreement, the countries can extradite suspects who have allegedly committed crimes punishable by more than a year in prison.

But the request was rejected by the UAE authorities in 2016 and the trial went ahead in 2018 without neither man present. Umerji was this time sentenced to 12 years in prison and Allad to more than 10 years.

Umerji’s UK-based lawyer declined to comment on Monday.