The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) says it has seen leaked papers indicating it took European investigators too long to bring a successful prosecution against the operators of a multi-million dollar scam involving the trade in carbon credits.

A British fraudster who stole millions of euros of taxpayers’ money had links to a network based in north west England suspected of large scale criminal activity for more than two decades. 

Long-held concerns

The bureau says the leaked documents reveal that Imran Yakub Ahmed from the British city of Preston, who now lives a life of luxury in Dubai, was under investigation by the UK authorities as early as 1998 over concerns about his links with members of a suspected tax fraud network.

But it was not until 2017 when he was first convicted by an Italian court for his participation in a criminal conspiracy to steal value-added tax (VAT).

Fraud typology

The frauds used carbon credit certificates that reward companies for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Companies could trade certificates for profit.

The fraudsters imported certificates from Dubai without paying VAT but then added VAT when they sold them to major banks. The fraudsters did not pay VAT as required.

Some prosecutions

But the banks that did buy the certificates did reclaim the equivalent of hundreds of millions of US dollars of VAT from British and European countries that had never been paid. 

Several individuals across Europe have been prosecuted for their roles in these frauds.

Ongoing investigations

Following six years of investigation and several trials in Germany, Deutsche Bank repaid €145 million (US$165 million) of lost VAT to the German state and one of its traders was jailed for his involvement in the fraud.

British authorities are still trying to recoup some of the money stolen in the UK by Ahmed and others – estimated to be around £300 million (US$381 million) – in court cases against major banks.