A MARBELLA lawyer has slammed a ‘heavy-handed’ dawn raid over a VAT fraud that was splashed over the media.
Antonio Flores is furious that 12 armed cops, wearing balaclavas, blocked the main road to seize paperwork relating to two clients of Moroccan families, last month.
The boss of Lawbird, a well known Marbella firm, told the Olive Press the action by the Guardia Civil was ‘totally unwarranted’ and they had actually since apologised.
“It’s a matter we had already been talking to the tax authorities over and we have absolutely nothing to hide,” he revealed last night.
“We’ve heard nothing since. It’s being dealt with by Coimbra court in Portugal.”
The clients in question, who are based in Portugal, are believed to have been inadvertently caught up in a €2.2 billion VAT fraud across Europe – the largest ever investigated in the EU.
The two Moroccan families, described by Flores as ‘victims’, had hired a Portuguese company to transfer funds to Marbella for a property purchase as Moroccans are forbidden from sending money directly to Europe.
Flores explained: “In doing so, they [the Portuguese company] faked invoices to pretend they were buying electronic items from Lawbird, and claimed the VAT back in Portugal.
“The sum involved here is €500,000, of which they claimed €100,000.”
The Portuguese firm had used his firm to do the conveyancing for the property in Portugal.
“It is always complicated for Moroccans to buy in Europe, but we had no idea they [the Portuguese company] would later alter the invoice and commit fraud,” continued Flores, who has hundreds of expat clients around Spain.
According to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Portuguese company would create false invoices for the sale of mobile phones, tablets, earphones and other electronic devices, with which they could then claim huge tax deductions.
It has been dubbed ‘the most profitable crime in the EU’, costing around €50 billion annually in tax losses to member states.
Flores explained he had heard about the 8am raid, when one of his fellow lawyers phoned him about the ‘armed police’ at the door.
“I was just getting dressed and rushed into the office to find three police cars blocking the main Ricardo Soriano highway, while balaclava-wearing cops paced around outside.
“Anyone passing would think it was a drugs raid or they were looking for terrorists.
“It was very heavy-handed, particularly as we quickly gave them all the information and paperwork they wanted some weeks before. In fact, we gave them more than they asked for.
“They ended up being quite apologetic and said it will be smoothed out easily. I hope so.”
Photos of the raid ended up on the local Marbella se queja social media site, sparking claims it was over ‘a corruption case’. It then ended up splashed across the local Spanish press and picked up on our front page at the end of November.
“We have had thousands of clients over the years so I guess it’s inevitable you get the odd bad one,” continued the father-of-two, who runs the company with his brother.
The Olive Press reported how five years ago, the Lawbird boss was falsely accused of attacking a local hotel with a hand grenade.
The boss of now-shut Sisu hotel, in Puerto Banus, claimed he was behind the midnight attack.
Our front page story in 2017 reported on the hotel releasing CCTV footage which showed a man dousing its interior with petrol, before lobbing in a hand grenade.
The hotel then burnt down in mysterious circumstances in the summer of 2021, adding fuel to this claim – but it has never been proven.
Guardia Civil confirmed to the Olive Press that officers raided the Lawbird premises but would not reveal any further details.
But the Olive Press has established it was part of a Europe-wide investigation, which has so far seen up to a dozen arrests.
A Europol spokesman said: “We have been actively supporting the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in its investigation into the biggest cross-border VAT fraud scheme uncovered to date in the EU, worth an estimated €2.2 billion.
“The EPPO, in cooperation with law enforcement agencies in 14 EU Member States and with the support of Europol, carried out simultaneous investigative measures in relation to a complex VAT fraud scheme based on the sale of popular electronic goods.
Over 200 searches were carried out in Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
“The case started in April 2021 after the Portuguese Tax Authority in Coimbra started looking into a company selling mobile phones, tablets, earphones and other electronic devices, on suspicion of VAT fraud.
“The case was passed on to the EPPO in June 2021. Since then, the EPPO, Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) and national law enforcement authorities have established connections between the suspected company in Portugal and close to 9,000 other legal entities, and more than 600 people located in over 30 countries.”