By Stefanos Evripidou
SCOTLAND’S most wanted tax dodger, British Cypriot fugitive Michael Voudouris, is believed to be hiding in the occupied north with his family while the British authorities seek to confiscate over €10m worth of his assets, according to Scottish news reports.
An arrest warrant for the 46-year-old was issued in 2012 after Voudouris failed to appear in an Edinburgh court to hear his sentence after pleading guilty to two cases of money laundering.
The British Cypriot had confessed in November 2012 to hiding over £10m (€12m) in accounts in Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland, collected from claiming VAT on bogus transactions. He originally faced charges of money laundering involving £45m (€54.4m), which was reduced following his confession.
Voudouris also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of hiding £1.2m (€1.5m) from the taxman.
He was released on bail but ended up skipping bail, doing a runner reportedly to the breakaway regime in the north which has no extradition treaty with Britain.
This was not the first time the British Cypriot found himself in hot water with HM Revenue and Customs, having previously been sentenced to four years in jail in 2004 on similar charges of VAT fraud totaling £3.5m (€4.2m), while in 2008 a court ordered him to return £1.3m (€1.6m) obtained illegally.
According to Scottish regional news outlet, STV News, apart from wanting him behind bars to serve a ten-year jail sentence, prosecutors are also trying to confiscate the cash he made from his crimes, targeting his home in Scotland.
Voudouris failed to turn up at an Edinburgh High Court hearing on Monday regarding the authorities’ efforts to seize assets acquired from criminal acts.
Public prosecutor Barry Divers told the presiding judge that Voudouri’s legal team had given up “due to the fact that they could not obtain instructions as he is unlawfully at large”, STV News reported.
He added that steps were under way to bring Voudouris back to face justice but did not go into detail.
Two former associates, his lawyer and accountant, were convicted and jailed last March in connection with assisting Voudouris in setting up the international fraud network.
The confiscation proceedings against Voudouris will resume in court in July.
Last January, the Daily Record reported that they had found the fugitive living in a four-bedroom villa near occupied Kyrenia with his wife and two daughters.
They were alerted to his escape to the breakaway regime after his 26-year-old daughter posted a photo of herself on a Cyprus beach on Facebook.
In August 2013, the paper said Voudouris had become Scotland’s top target in a new list of Britain’s most-wanted criminal tax dodgers.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail yesterday, a spokesman from the British High Commission said: “We are aware of the reports and we are working with the Cypriot authorities to ascertain his exact whereabouts. If anyone has any information, please contact your local police.”
The British authorities have launched a number of campaigns across Europe to get wanted criminals back in the country to face justice. Many seek refuge in the breakaway regime in the north. If an international or European arrest warrant is pending against the fugitives, then technically, they may be arrested the moment they step foot in the government-controlled areas of Cyprus or Turkey and then extradited to the UK.
In September 2012, the UK’s independent charity Crimestoppers in collaboration with the National Crime Agency launched a fugitive campaign titled Operation Zygos, appealing to the public for help in trying to locate wanted individuals involved in serious crime and believed to be hiding in Cyprus. Four of the nine on the Most Wanted list have already been arrested. The five still at large are Cypriots Costas Sampson, Mehmet Salih and Hasan Akarcay, and British nationals Timur Mehmet and Martin Evans.
At the end of last month, a pair of British fugitives living in the occupied north since 2008 were arrested when they crossed into the government-controlled areas and subsequently extradited to the UK to face justice.
Deborah Hancox, 44, and John Leigh, 53, were wanted by British authorities in connection with stealing £1m from the National Health Service (NHS).