Britain’s most wanted woman jailed after nine years on run

·2-min read
Sarah Panitzke who has finally faced justice  (PA)
Sarah Panitzke who has finally faced justice (PA)

Britain’s most wanted woman has been jailed for eight years for her role in a multimillion-pound VAT fraud after she went missing for nine years.

Sarah Panitzke, 48, originally from York, finally faced justice when she appeared at Kingston Crown Court on Friday, just one day after being extradited back to the UK.

Panitzke absconded in May 2013 while standing trial for money laundering offences and she was subsequently featured in National Crime Agency (NCA) most-wanted appeals.

Sarah Panitzke (PA)
Sarah Panitzke (PA)

She was convicted and sentenced in her absence to eight years in prison.

Panitzke and her 17 co-conspirators were given sentences totalling 135 years for a multimillion-pound VAT fraud, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said after her arrest.

Police officers arrested Panitzke while she walked her two dogs in the small town of Santa Barbara near the Catalan coast on February 27.

The operation was led by the Spanish Guardia Civil, working alongside HMRC.

Panitzke launched an appeal against extradition proceedings, which failed, and she was returned to the UK on Thursday, HMRC said after the court case.

On Friday, Judge Sarah Plaschkes QC said: “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.”

Panitzke, who was not visible from where press were seated, stood only to confirm her name.

Following her arrest in February, Simon York, director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said “Panitzke was one of Britain’s most-wanted tax fugitives.”

On Friday, Mr York 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.”

A confiscation order for £2,455,913 was made against Panitzke in her absence on March 22 2016, and she was given three months to pay the full amount or face an additional nine years in prison.

No money has ever been paid towards the confiscation order, HMRC said.

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 added.