An international manhunt has been launched to catch two Preston businessmen convicted of being part of a £56m fraud ring.
Adam Umerji, 33, formerly of St John’s Court, Broughton, and Abdullah Yusuf Allad, 32, formerly of Black Bull Lane, Fulwood, are believed to be hiding in Dubai after fleeing a major fraud investigation by HM Revenue and Customs.
The pair were convicted in their absence at Liverpool Crown Court for their part in a multi-million pound VAT and money laundering ring, known as ‘missing trader’ fraud.
Three others – also from Preston – previously pleaded guilty to their part in the crime, which dates back to as early as 2005.
One of the men – Sajid Patel, 35, from Fulwood – hit the headlines last year when a gunman shot at him in front of his luxury house.
Now immigration officials have started extradition proceedings with officials in the Arab state, in a bid to get the two absconding criminals returned to Britain.
Mike O’Grady, assistant director of criminal investigations at HMRC, said: “Missing trader fraud is not merely a paper fraud, but often has links to other forms of criminal activity.
“In a blatant attack on our tax system, these men stole a massive amount of money, lining their own pockets at the expense of the British taxpayer.”
The gang operated a number of companies in the Preston area, trading in mobile phones.
Fellow defendants Sajid Muhammed Patel, 35, from Ferndale, Fulwood; Wai Fong, also known as Katie Yeung, 32, of Garstang Road, Fulwood; and Mohammed Mehtajee, 32, of Garstang Road, Fulwood pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue at hearings at Liverpool Crown Court in April and May.
They submitted fraudulent VAT repayment claims to reclaim millions of pounds in VAT allegedly paid by them on the purchase of large quantities of stock.
They then transferred their criminal proceeds out of the UK to Dubai, in an effort to conceal their illegal activities in an operation known as ‘missing trader’ or ‘carousel’ fraud, according to HMRC investigators.
HMRC said they first started investigating the gang in 2005.
They were all charged in January 2009, but they have only just gone to trial because of the complexity of the case, investigators said.
Umerji and Allad were convicted in their absence at Liverpool Crown Court, after a four-week jury trial, which began on May 12.
They are believed to be living off their proceeds in Dubai, which is home.
Bench warrants have been issued for their arrest and extradition proceedings have started.
All five are due to be sentenced in September.
The charges are expected to carry a prison term of between 12 and 15 years.
A reporter spoke to Sajid Patel’s wife at their home in Ferndale, Fulwood, on Thursday but she declined to comment.
In January, Uwais Ilyas, 22, from Ilford, Essex, was jailed for five years after he admitted firing a shot from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol as Sajid Patel was helping his four-year-old son outside the family home. The bullet smashed through the Patels, living room window but nobody was hurt.