UK Authorities Bust Northern Ireland’s Largest-ever Tax Evaders

Published: 16 June 2023

L-R The ringleaders Francis Devlin  Paul McStravickFrancis Devlin (L) and Paul McStravick (R), leaders of a gang responsible for the largest-ever tax fraud in Northern Ireland. (Photo: HM Revenue & Customs, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The United Kingdom’s tax, payments, and customs authority said Wednesday that the ringleaders of a group that prompted Northern Ireland’s largest ever tax probe have been imprisoned, following the discovery of covertly recorded talks in a tapped accountant’s office.

“The decade-long investigation into the £5 million (US$6.4 million) tax fraud ended yesterday (13 June 2023) with prison sentences issued to gang leaders 58-year-old Francis Devlin and 56-year-old Paul McStravick for a combined total of eight years [four years each],” HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said in a statement.

Another 25 accomplices were sentenced to suspended jail terms, as the majority of them permitted their personal information to be exploited in the scam.

The customs authorities said that the evidence against the 27-member gang was based on more than 260 hours of surreptitiously recorded film showing gang members planning the fraud from the Belfast accountancy company Allen Tully & Co, where Devlin was a partner. The gang used the office as a base.

In one video, they were heard comparing the office to an “Aladdin’s cave” for fraud investigators, and said they would “go down in history” if they were ever discovered, according to HMRC.

The gang reportedly created 16 fictitious firms and utilized 56 related bank accounts to conduct the fraud, producing a fake audit trail that allowed customers to operate in the construction industry without paying tax or VAT [Value Added Tax].

The HMRC investigation produced a huge and complex dossier of evidence, including digital data and witness testimony, which was submitted to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for examination, according to the Senior Public Prosecutor at the PPS, Graham Cardwell.

“The prosecution team including counsel pulled together the various strands of evidence to form a strong prosecution case, which has resulted in these convictions,” he said.

Richard Las, the HMRC Fraud Investigation Service Director, concluded that “this was a sophisticated and complex fraud that took the largest ever tax probe in Northern Ireland, including extensive covert surveillance, for HMRC fraud investigators to bring it down.”