For decades, one group has embezzled more than 9 billion from the UK government’s coffers through VAT fraud. The authorities’ inaction raises questions about some of the funds used to finance Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Sunday Times revealed in a survey published on 31 March that an organised gang had embezzled more than £8 billion (€9.3 billion) from state coffers over the past 20 years. However, the actual extent of the fraud is still unknown, as the £8 billion in question only concerns the part relating to public money embezzled, in particular through extensive VAT fraud. The gang had diversified its activities by committing real estate loan or credit card scams, which have not yet been recorded.
According to the Sunday Times, one percent of this amount – or €93 million – was sent to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan to finance madrassas (Islamic schools), but also terrorist training camps. According to British intelligence sources (MI5) quoted by the weekly, some of the money also reached Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, before his death in 2011.
The group of “British of Asian origin”, in the words of the Sunday Times, was also close to the preacher Abu Hamza, now imprisoned in the United States, and Shehzad Tanweer, one of the terrorists who committed the 2005 London attacks. Among the details revealed by the weekly, we also learn that the group had infiltrated government agencies and did not deprive itself of contact with the top British politicians.
I myself saw one of the members shoulder to shoulder with Tony Blair
“There are several gang members involved in think tanks and economic forums through which they are in contact with leading British politicians. I myself saw one of the members shoulder to shoulder with Tony Blair on at least two occasions after the war in Iraq,” said a Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Officer (HMRC, the agency responsible for tax collection) who investigated VAT fraud in the Sunday Times. The HMRC investigation also shows that the gang had links to a prominent politician in Pakistan.
Although it has been investigating the group’s activities for years, HMRC has done virtually nothing to prevent the network from continuing its activities, according to the weekly. According to the records available to him, the Sunday Times revealed that at least four HMRC officers had implored their superiors to prosecute members of the group. In vain: their requests have invariably been rejected “because of their complex nature and lack of resources”.
This was even when an HMRC agent, shortly after the September 11 attacks, said he was “ready to meet someone from the intelligence services” with the information at the agency’s disposal, which had “taken on a whole new meaning” following the attack. “Agents and their direct superiors are frustrated by the lack of action,” it is written in a file. The information in question was never transmitted to MI5, in order to protect the “confidentiality of suspects’ tax data”, the newspaper notes. HMRC officers had also identified links between the group and Shehzad Tanweer – the terrorist involved in the London bombings, which killed 52 people – at least two years before the attack, without this information reaching MI5.
Nevertheless, fraud trials were held as early as 1995, and some members of the group, “little hands”, were sentenced to prison terms, which they have sometimes even served. But these trials have always remained confidential: court orders have prohibited the disclosure of the names of those involved in the cases. The authorities felt that this could have been detrimental to a possible trial of the group’s leading figures. Who have never been worried.