A serial fraudster dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Wanted Woman’ has been arrested by Spanish police after spending nearly a decade on the run. You can watch footage of her arrest below:
Sarah Panitzke, 47, was accused of being involved in laundering over £1 billion as part of a mobile phone tax scam, and she went on the run during her trial for money laundering offences in May 2013.
She was detained by Spanish authorities on Sunday morning (27 February) while walking her dogs in Santa Barbara, Tarragona as part of an operation supported by HM Revenue & Customs.
Panitzke, originally from Fulford near York, was convicted and sentenced in her absence to eight years in jail, and had been the subject of a number of ‘most wanted’ appeals from the National Crime Agency after absconding during her trial at Kingston Crown Court.
She has now appeared in court and has been remanded in custody as extradition proceedings begin.
Over ten years ago, Panitzke was recruited into a gang of notorious tax criminals headed by convicted criminal Geoffrey Johnson, and was part of a web of 18 fraudsters that bought cheap mobile phones in overseas countries without VAT, then resold them in the UK for a big profit.
She has been described as a key member of the group, and was responsible for laundering their cash, travelling to places such as Spain, Dubai and Andorra to 'clean' the money the gang had stolen.
For a long period of time she was the only woman on the National Crime Agency’s Most Wanted List.
She remained the only member of the 18-strong gang on the run after ringleader Geoffrey Johnson was arrested in Dubai in 2017 and subsequently sentenced to 24 years in prison. The gang’s 18 members received sentences totalling 135 years.
The Spanish Guardia Civil said she was tracked down to a town near Barcelona in 2015, but she became aware of the police operation to arrest her, so disguised herself and managed to flee.
At the time of her trial she was said to have been living in the coastal town of Vilanova i la Geltru with two dogs and a long-term partner and doing 'front jobs' as a hotel worker and property investor.
Last month, she was traced to the small town of Santa Barbara and put under surveillance until her arrest.
The NCA’s international deputy director Tom Dowdall said: "Sarah Panitzke has been on the run for almost nine years. Given the length of time, she might have thought we had stopped searching, but she remained on our radar.
"This should serve as a warning to others on our most wanted list - we will not rest until you are captured, no matter how long it takes."
Featured Image Credit: Guardia Civil/National Crime Agency