A money launderer involved in a £1 billion mobile phone tax scam who was one of the National Crime Agency’s most wanted fugitives has been arrested in Spain.
Sarah Panitzke, aged 47 and originally from Fulford near York, was detained as she walked her dogs in Santa Barbara, Tarragona, on Sunday morning [27 February] by the Spanish Guardia Civil as part of an operation supported by HM Revenue & Customs.
She has now appeared in court and was remanded in custody as extradition proceedings begin.
Panitzke disappeared in May 2013 as she stood trial for money laundering offences.
She was convicted and sentenced in her absence to eight years following an investigation by HMRC, who identified she was part of an organised crime group responsible for laundering approximately £1 billion from a mobile phone VAT fraud.
Panitzke and her co-conspirators were given jail terms totalling 135 years.
NCA International Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said:
“Sarah Panitzke has been on the run for almost nine years. Given the length of time she might have thought we had stopped searching, but she remained on our radar.
“Joint working between UK law enforcement and our partners in Spain led to her being apprehended, and we will now seek her extradition back to the UK to serve her prison sentence.
“This should serve as a warning to others on our most wanted list – we will not rest until you are captured, no matter how long it takes.”
Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:
“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.
“Panitzke thought she had put herself outside of the reach of HMRC, but through our work with UK law enforcement and international partners we have tracked down another tax fugitive. No tax criminal is beyond our reach.
“We have helped secure the return more than 60 fugitives since 2016, including some of the UK’s most harmful tax cheats.”
Lord Ashcroft, Founder and Chair of the independent charity Crimestoppers, said:
“It’s hugely encouraging news to hear of Sarah Panitske’s arrest in Spain after being on our Most Wanted list for some years. It shows how our charity, working with the NCA to find the most wanted fugitives, benefits us all. Our communities, here in the UK and abroad, are safer as a result.
“If you know the whereabouts of any of the remaining Most Wanted fugitives, you can contact Crimestoppers completely anonymously by calling 0800 555 111 or by using our anonymous online form.”