Dilawar Ravjani
Dilawar Ravjani, the leader of the gang.

The leader of a 15-strong criminal gang which concocted a mobile phone scam worth over £176m has been sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment at Kingston Crown Court.

Dilawar Ravjani, 34, orchestrated the creation of a complex 'missing trader' scam, in which a string of ghost companies fabricated the sale of mobile phones worth a total of £1.7bn, and claimed the VAT.

Ravjani, whose gang invented 5,700 transactions, was brought to justice following the completion of five linked fraud trials. His is the longest sentence ever imposed for so-called 'carousel fraud', a form of fraud in which products and VAT are passed around a chain of conspiring companies, with little or no clarity.

Investigations kicked off in May 2006 when HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) received notice of the fraud attempt. Before their fraudulent activities were brought to light, Ravjani's group made a huge sum from the government; according to an HMRC report, their actions created an actual tax loss of £107m.

Chris Martin, assistant director of HMRC, said: "Fraud on this scale causes immense damage to the tax revenues of the UK and the European Union. This was a complex and well-organised fraud which made a huge profit for the gang at the expense of UK taxpayers, but the dedication and techniques used by HMRC officers in this investigation resulted in the successful prosecution and convictions of these criminals.

"We will now seek to recover the proceeds of this crime."

Judge Birts QC, speaking after the trial at Kingston Crown Court, said: "I would like to pay tribute to, and highly commend, the excellent and dedicated investigatory work of the two officers (who conducted the investigation).

"I had the opportunity of observing the result of this work at close quarters for very many months and I've been very impressed, not only by integrity for the work - which I would expect - but also by the diligence and fairness shown during the process and dedication of the team."