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One of Britain’s most wanted tax fugitives has appeared in court after nine years on the run, having been extradited back to the UK yesterday (Thursday 9 June).
Sarah Panitzke, 48, appeared at Kingston Crown Court in south-west London today after absconding in May 2013 while standing trial for money laundering offences, subsequently featuring in National Crime Agency (NCA) most-wanted appeals.
Panitzke, who is from York, was arrested in Spain while walking her two dogs in the small town of Santa Barbara near the Catalan coast on 27 February, as part of an operation led by the Spanish Guardia Civil working alongside HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
In her absence, she was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, with HMRC saying after the arrest that Panitzke and her 17 co-conspirators were given sentences totalling 135 years for a multimillion-pound VAT fraud.
As Panitzke appeared in court today, where she stood only to confirm her name, Judge Sarah Plaschkes QC told her: “Stand up please, as you have heard you were sentenced in your absence by his honour Judge Campbell at this court on the 22nd August 2013 to eight years imprisonment, that sentence will start today now that you have been extradited to this country.
“That means that you will serve at least half of that sentence in custody before you may be released on licence.
“When you are released on licence, if you commit any further offence you may serve the rest of your sentence in custody.
“In the circumstances, there are no further orders that I need to make and nothing further that I need to say.”
Simon York, director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, added: “Sarah Panitzke helped launder millions of pounds of stolen money and thought she could run from her crimes.
“She spent nine years hiding – but we never stopped looking.
“We worked tirelessly alongside the Spanish authorities to track her down and ensure she was brought back to face justice.”
Following her arrest in February, York had also said ‘Panitzke was one of Britain’s most-wanted tax fugitives’.
A confiscation order for £2,455,913 was made against Panitzke in her absence on 22 March 2016.
She was given three months to pay the full amount or face an additional nine years in prison.
HMRC said no money has ever been paid towards the confiscation order, adding that the total amount outstanding - including interest - continues to accrue at a rate of £538 a day and had reached £3,470,575 by May 2022.
HMRC said Panitzke had launched an appeal against extradition proceedings, but that this failed and she was returned to the UK yesterday.
Defence lawyers had tried to fight her extradition on the basis she had strong links to Spain, having lived there since the mid-nineties and married a local man 17 years ago.
They said Panitzke's husband had a life expectancy of just 10 years due to a liver transplant, claiming he would be unable to visit her if she had to be extradited to the UK.
Earlier this week, it also emerged that Panitzke had been living with a fake Italian ID in the name of Antonietta Argiulo for seven years - although the name of Maria Antonietta is believed to have been written on a postbox outside her home.
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