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UK Most Wanted Fugitive Sarah Panitzke apprehended in Spain

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UK Most Wanted Fugitive Sarah Panitzke apprehended in Spain

UK Most Wanted Fugitive Sarah Panitzke apprehended in Spain

Spanish police claimed Tuesday they have caught Britain’s most wanted woman for a £1 billion VAT fraud, following nine years on the run.

The fugitive, named by Britain’s National Crime Agency as 47-year-old Sarah Panitzke, was detained by Guardia Civil police on Sunday walking her dogs in Santa Barbara hamlet, between Barcelona and Valencia.

Panitzke has been sought since 2013 for money laundering charges as part of 16-strong criminal cell that acquired mobile phones overseas without VAT then resold them in the UK.

The gang earned earnings of “more than £1 billion” (1.2 billion euros/$1.3 billion), police and the NCA stated in separate announcements.

Originally from Fulford, in the northern English city of York, Panitzke fled in May 2013 before being tried and sentenced in absentia to eight years behind prison.

She was the last of the group to be arrested, with other members collectively sentenced to 135 years in prison, the NCA said.

Investigators with Britain’s HMRC tax officials claimed she was responsible for laundering all the group’s money via several businesses in Spain, the small principality of Andorra and Dubai.

The gang managed to transfer more mobile phones in the UK than the total quantity sold by all legitimate stores, the Guardia Civil stated, citing British authorities.

In 2015, authorities found she was living in Olivella, just south of Barcelona, with her spouse delivering supplies at weekends.

But she felt the cops were onto her and “totally altered her look and fled”, subsequently breaking all physical contact with her family to escape discovery.

It was seven years until they discovered her again after being tipped off she could be in Santa Barbara in February. After a protracted monitoring operation, investigators noticed a lady “who certainly had the same physical characteristics”.

This time, they sent numerous operatives in civilian dress to guarantee she wouldn’t escape again.

“Sarah Panitzke was one of Britain’s most wanted tax fugitives. She played a pivotal role in a multi-million pound VAT fraud and moved millions through offshore bank accounts,” said Simon York, head of HMRC’s fraud investigation service in a statement.

“Panitzke thought she had put herself outside of the reach of HMRC, but… no tax criminal is beyond our reach.”

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