Britain's 'most wanted woman' Sarah Panitzke jailed in UK after nine years on the run

  • Video showing Sarah Panitzke's arrest in Spain

A fugitive fraudster who was dubbed Britain's "most wanted woman" has finally been jailed – nine years after she was sentenced for her part in a multi-million pound VAT scam.

Sarah Panitzke, originally from York, fled to Spain during her trial in 2013 and was convicted and sentenced in her absence to eight years in prison.

The 48-year-old was arrested while walking her dogs in Spain in February, in an operation led by the Spanish Guardia Civil, working alongside officials from the UK's HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

She fought extradition, claiming she should be allowed to serve her sentenced in her "adopted homeland".

But the bid failed and she was flown back to the UK on Thursday, 9 June.

Sarah Panitzke was arrested in Spain. Credit: NCA

After appearing at Kingston Crown Court on Friday, she was told her sentence would be served in the UK.

Simon York, director, of HMRC's fraud investigation service, said: "Sarah Panitzke helped launder millions of pounds of stolen money and thought she could run from her crimes. She spent nine years hiding – but we never stopped looking.

"We worked tirelessly alongside the Spanish authorities to track her down and ensure she was brought back to face justice."

Mobile phone fraud

Panitzke was part of a gang that carried out a sophisticated multi-million-pound fraud, laundering huge volumes of stolen money through offshore bank accounts.

They set up businesses claiming to be legitimately importing and selling mobile phones, but the businesses were a front for an elaborate scheme to steal more than £20million in VAT repayments.

Sarah Panitzke is flanked by tax officials after being flown back to the UK. Credit: HMRC

Pantizke and her 17 co-conspirators were given sentences totalling 135 years.

In 2016, while still on the run, a court ordered Panitzke to repay more than £2.4million within three months or serve an extra nine years in jail.

HMRC believe she hid in Andorra and Spain under an assumed identity. She was captured after the Spanish Guardia Civil identified her in a village in the region of Tarragona.

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