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Nigerian businessman jailed after conning Lincolnshire taxpayers

He got £480,000 from four frauds

Paul Whitelam - LinconshireLive - 18-01-17
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A Nigerian businessman has been locked up for three years and six months for his part in an international conspiracy which swindled more than £13m from public services including Lincolnshire's mental health NHS trust.

Walter Wagbatsoma, 47, personally benefited to the tune of £480,000 from four frauds in the scam known as divert fraud.

Walter Wagbatsoma
Walter Wagbatsoma

Wagbatsoma and his co-conspirators rang up hospitals, councils, schools and housing associations posing as a legitimate building firm which was owed money by the organisations.

They then claimed their bank details had changed and instructed the organisations to put the money into a different account instead.

The money was then moved around several accounts in a bid to make it untraceable.

Lincolnshire Police's four-year investigation into the fraud ring, called Operation Tarlac, began in 2011 after Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Trust was cheated out of £1.28m.

Detectives uncovered a further 20 linked offences resulting in losses of £12.6m to public bodies.

A judge described the scam as a “sophisticated and widespread fraud in its conception and execution”.

Twelve people from across the UK and as far afield as Dubai were sentenced for their part in the fraud last summer.

Now the 13th conspirator Wagbatsoma is behind bars following a trial at Leicester Crown Court after he was convicted of conspiracy to launder money.

Officers have already started the process of recovering all of the criminals' ill-gotten gains under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Knubley, who heads Lincolnshire Police's Economic Crime Unit, says officers painstakingly unravelled complicated trails of money transactions using financial data and other undisclosed techniques.

He added: "We have got the convictions and now we are interested in recovering the equivalent cash and assets to the amount that the criminals benefitted.

"We have already commenced proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act and that can take up to three years to go through.

"We are really pleased with the results of this investigation. It concerned public money and it was really satisfying to put some serious criminals in prison. That, and protecting the public, is the job we do and the reason we joined."

Mr Knubley said it has been a tough case to crack.

He said: "Money would go out of the country to Dubai and eventually end up back in an account via a number of other accounts.

"It was a real challenge but we have some really clever people in the economic crime unit.

"It wasn't as easy as following money from an account - the conspirators tried to show it had come from legitimate companies but we were able to show it had not.

"Wagbatsoma personally received a total of £480,000 from four of the frauds including Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Trust which came in 15 different payments."

Wagbatsoma was originally detained on a European Arrest Warrant in June 2016 while travelling through Germany.

He was extradited soon afterwards and charged with conspiring with others to launder the proceeds of fraud through his business interests in the UK.

The businessman was jailed on Wednesday, January 17 and also disqualified from being a company director for six years.

Fraudulently obtained funds in the UK were laundered through an account in Dubai under the control of a co-conspirator Oluwatoyin Allison, a UK national who was convicted in his absence at an earlier trial in April 2017 and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.

The funds were then transferred to Wagbatsoma’s account in the UK.

Wagbatsoma, an oil and gas businessman, was on trial in Nigeria at the time of his arrest for his part in a £1.9 billion oil subsidy fraud for which he was convicted and sentenced in his absence to 10-years imprisonment in January last year.

After a four-year investigation, those convicted have received prison sentences in excess of 50-years.

Deputy Chief Constable Craig Naylor said: "For a small force, this investigation shows that officers in our economic crime department have shown real endeavour and determination in investigating what is a huge money laundering and fraud offence.

"Operation Tarlac has now seen 13 individuals given lengthy prison sentences for their part in an international offence, which has had a national impact on public bodies in the UK.

"As a force, we have achieved a significant impact against organised crime in this investigation and this shows the hard work by our officers.

"Proceedings are now underway to recover a large amount of money and I want to personally thank partners for their support and co-operation with us in this investigation and congratulate my officers and staff on a job well done."


Tags: Nigerian, scam, fraud, Walter Wagbatsoma, Operation Tarlac, launder money

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