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CRIME

Spain arrests UK’s most wanted woman

Spanish police said Tuesday they had arrested Britain's most wanted woman over a €1.2 billion (£1-billion) VAT scam, after nine years on the run.

Spain arrests UK's most wanted woman
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. Photo: UK National Crime Agency

The fugitive, identified by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) as 47-year-old Sarah Panitzke, was arrested by Guardia Civil police on Sunday walking her dogs in Santa Barbara village, between Barcelona and Valencia.

Panitzke has been wanted since 2013 for money laundering offences as part of 16-strong criminal gang that bought mobile phones abroad without VAT then resold them in the UK.

The gang made profits of “more than £1 billion” (€1.2 billion/$1.3 billion), police and the NCA said in separate statements.

Originally from Fulford, near the northern English city of York, Panitzke disappeared in May 2013 before being convicted and sentenced in absentia to eight years behind bars.

She was the last of the gang to be caught, with other members collectively sentenced to 135 years in jail, the NCA said.

Investigators with Britain’s HMRC tax authorities said she was responsible for laundering all the group’s income through multiple companies in Spain, the tiny principality of Andorra and Dubai.

The gang managed to shift more mobile phones in the UK than the collective number sold by all legal outlets, the Guardia Civil said, citing British investigators.

In 2015, police discovered she was living in Olivella, just south of Barcelona, with her husband bringing supplies at weekends.

But she realised the police were onto her and “totally changed her appearance and fled”, later cutting all physical ties with her family to avoid detection.

It was seven years before they found her again after being tipped off she might be in Santa Barbara in February. After a lengthy surveillance  operation, police spotted a woman “who clearly had the same physical characteristics”.

This time, they deployed multiple agents in civilian clothing to ensure 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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CRIME

Spanish mother jailed for falsely accusing ex-husband of child abuse

A Spanish court has jailed a woman for five years for repeatedly filing false reports about her ex-husband sexually abusing their daughter.

Spanish mother jailed for falsely accusing ex-husband of child abuse

According to El Mundo daily, the sentence was unprecedented in Spain.

In a ruling handed down by a court in the southern city of Granada which was seen by AFP on Wednesday, the unnamed woman was convicted of filing false allegations, offences against moral integrity and abandonment of parental responsibility.

She was also ordered to pay €40,000 ($42,000) each to the child and her father for the harm caused by her unfounded allegations, which were aimed at securing sole custody of her daughter, now nine.

The court also took away the mother’s parental responsibility for 10 years on grounds she posed “a threat to (her daughter’s) development”, according to court documents dated Monday.

The woman had filed eight reports to the police and the courts over a two-year period, accusing her husband of abuse and on one occasion rape as they were in the throes of getting divorced.

She also took her daughter to be examined by doctors and psychologists on 10 separate occasions.

None of them ever found any evidence of the alleged abuse.

The ongoing gynaecological and psychological examinations had an impact on the child’s “psychological stability and her performance at school”, according to the court documents.

The aim was to “obtain the sole and exclusive custody” of their daughter.

The sentence, which can be appealed, described the mother as a person with a predisposition for “lying” who displayed “shameless cynicism” and “cunning malice with obsessive overtones”.

The couple married in 2010 and had a daughter in 2012. But they split up in 2017 and the problems began a year later when the father, an English teacher, requested joint custody.

After his ex-wife began filing the false allegations against him, he lost most of his students along with his “emotion stability, peace of mind and sense of calm”, the court found.

“It’s like being buried alive,” he told El Mundo.

“It’s trying to kill someone without laying a finger on them… accusing them of the vilest, worst thing that a human being can do: harming your own daughter.”

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