Ice cream franchisee’s £1.6m VAT fraud ends with eight-year prison stretch

Mohammed Shareef, Baskin Robbins franchisee

A Harrow ice cream franchisee, whose plan to steal £1.6 million in VAT went into meltdown, has been jailed for eight years after he was investigated by HMRC.

The investigation into 43-year-old Mohammed Shareef’s companies revealed he was making fraudulent VAT repayment claims for six years. He used the money he stole to rent a property on a prestigious gated development in Harrow-on-the-Hill, lease a Mercedes car, pay for private school fees and to prop up his failing franchises of Baskin Robbins ice cream shops in London.

Investigators found that Shareef, who was a director of two companies – Acme Foods Limited and Orion MG Limited – and franchisee of nine Baskin Robbins ice cream stores, had used false paperwork to support his claims for shops that had already closed, had yet to open, or that simply did not exist.

In a bid to distance himself from the fraud, Shareef claimed that his company’s finances were managed by an accounts team in India, who submitted VAT returns on his behalf. He said he had no knowledge of the false documents that had been found on his personal computer. But investigators proved he was the author of files containing false invoices, bank statements and VAT summaries.

The fake bank statements contained spelling mistakes, duplicate transactions and glaring errors such as transactions dated 2011 in a statement for 2012.

Jennie Granger, director general for enforcement and compliance at HMRC, said: “Shareef stole a huge amount of money to fund a wealthy lifestyle that he couldn’t afford, and tried to blame the fraud on others. But our investigation clearly linked him to the faked documentation showing he played a pivotal role and tried to cover his tracks.

“We will not tolerate tax fraud and will thoroughly investigate those who steal money that should be funding public services. Our job doesn’t finish when someone is jailed and we will now start confiscation proceedings to reclaim the money he stole.”

Shareef was arrested in February 2014, when he arrived at Heathrow Airport from Dubai, after irregularities were uncovered during checks of his business accounts. HMRC officers seized three mobile telephones, two laptops and two USB memory sticks at the time of his arrest, containing vital evidence of his involvement in the fraud.

He was found guilty of Cheating the Public Revenue contrary to Common Law after a trial at Southwark Crown Court and sentenced last week. Confiscation proceedings to recover proceeds of the crime are under way.

Baskin Robbins was not subject to the criminal investigation or court proceedings. The company was simply franchisor of the ice cream shops operated by Shareef.

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