NEARLY 700 tax fraudsters were convicted over the course of 2013, HM Revenue & Customs has confirmed.
Between January and the end of November, HMRC investigations led to 690 successful convictions - up from 477 in 2012, and the highest since the 2010 Spending Review.
The investigations covered everything from complex VAT, income tax and benefit frauds to smuggling cases.
Among those investigations was Operation Hornbeam, which smashed a £26m tobacco smuggling operation and saw the nine gang members sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.
A similar operation, Echowood, scuppered a wine duty fraud, which saw illicit Italian wine smuggled into the UK and sold on without paying more than £5m in VAT.
Roberto Parma imported wine from an Italian-based company, Cantine Soldo spa, using the UK's duty suspension scheme. Parma and his accomplice Alberto Mori exploited this scheme by using the same delivery documents many times and avoiding paying duty by diverting the wine from the bonded warehouse, when duty would normally be paid.
Mori, a London wine merchant, worked with Parma to sell the imported wine illegally through a network of wholesalers around the UK.
Parma was sentenced to six years, seven months in prison, while Mori received seven years.
Exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said: "The government is determined to make sure people pay the tax they owe and HMRC will come down hard on those who try to cheat the system. Honest taxpayers will be pleased that these fraudsters are now paying for their crimes.
"We have invested nearly £1bn in HMRC to tackle those who fail to play by the rules, and today's figures clearly demonstrate that investment is paying off."
Last year, HMRC was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee over its inability to pursue taxes from large, multinational companies.
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