Jagprit Randhawa and Others v The Queen

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Criminal Division)
JudgeMr Justice Holroyde
Judgment Date18 Jan 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] EWCA Crim 1
Docket NumberCase No: 2010/4072/C5 Jaspal Singh (AKA Chahal) 2010/4241/C5 Charanjit Singh Chahal 2011/2302/C5 Harbans Singh 2011/2585/C5 Philip Mallourides 2011/2450/C5 Bhabdeep Singh Chahal

[2012] EWCA Crim 1

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CRIMINAL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM the Crown Court at Birmingham

T20077898 HHJ Inman and HHJ Mayo

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Lord Justice Hooper

Mr Justice Holroyde

Mr Justice Supperstone

Case No:

2010/4075/C5 Jagprit Randhawa

2010/4072/C5 Jaspal Singh (AKA Chahal)

2010/4241/C5 Charanjit Singh Chahal

2011/2302/C5 Harbans Singh

2011/2585/C5 Philip Mallourides

2011/2450/C5 Bhabdeep Singh Chahal

Between:
Jagprit Randhawa
Jaspal Singh Chahal
Charanjit Singh Chahal
Philip Mallourides
Bhabdeep Singh Chahal
Appellants
and
The Queen
Respondent

Mr Michael Wood QC and Mr Geoffrey Payne for Jagprit Randhawa

Mr George Carter-Stephenson QC for Jaspal Singh Chahal

Mr David Spens QC for Charanjit Singh Chahal

Mr Charles Bott QC and Mr Ayaz Qazi for Philip Mallourides

Mr Henry Blaxland QC for Bhabdeep Singh Chahal

Mr Andrew Munday QC and Miss S Ellis for the Respondent

Hearing dates: 15th December 2011

Mr Justice Holroyde
1

There are before the court five applications for leave to appeal against sentence. Each of the applicants was convicted by a jury of a conspiracy to cheat the public revenue, the nature of that conspiracy being what is commonly referred to as a MTIC carousel fraud relating to the VAT on sales of mobile phones during 2005. Three of the applicants were convicted in June 2010 at the conclusion of a trial before HHJ Inman QC and a jury. Of the remaining two applicants, one had been severed from the first trial. In relation to the other, the jury at the first trial had been unable to agree upon a verdict. There was a second trial before HHJ Mayo, which ended in March 2011 in the conviction of those applicants.

2

The five applicants, in the order in which they were originally indicted, are as follows:

a. Bhabdeep Singh Chahal (also referred to as Bobby Chahal) was born on 09.07.79 and so is now aged 32. He was convicted at the second trial and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. HHJ Mayo initially ordered that he be disqualified as a director for 20 years. It was subsequently brought to the attention of the judge that by virtue of s2(3)(b) of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the maximum permissible period of disqualification was 15 years, and in circumstances which we will consider shortly the judge varied his order by reducing the period of disqualification to one of 14 years. This application for leave to appeal against sentence was referred to the full court by the single judge solely because of a concern about the way in which that variation was made.

b. Charanjit Singh Chahal (also referred to as Charlie Chahal) was born on 08.12.76 and so is now aged 35. He was convicted at the first trial and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was initially disqualified as a director for 17 years, but that period was later varied to 14 years, and subsequently varied again to 12 years. No point arises in that regard. He renews his application for leave to appeal against sentence following refusal by the single judge.

c. Jaspal Singh Chahal was born on 04.09.79, and so is now aged 32. He was convicted at the first trial and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. The judge ordered that he be disqualified as a director for 12 years. He renews his application for leave to appeal against sentence following refusal by the single judge.

d. Jagprit Randhawa was born on 30.04.78, and so is now aged 33. He was convicted at the first trial. He too was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, and disqualified as a director for 12 years. He renews his application for leave to appeal against sentence following refusal by the single judge.

e. Philip Mallourides was born on 10.03.69 and so is now aged 47. He was convicted at the second trial, and sentenced to 6 years 6 months imprisonment. The judge ordered that he be disqualified as a director for 10 years. He renews his application for leave to appeal against sentence following refusal by the single judge.

3

Bhabdeep Chahal and Charanjit Chahal are cousins. In the spring of 2004 they jointly committed offences of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of criminal conduct, and conspiracy to use false instruments. In August 2008 (after the period of this conspiracy) they were both convicted of those offences, and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. They had no other previous convictions. None of the other three applicants had ever previously been convicted of any offence.

4

We do not think it necessary to go into any detail as to the nature of the conspiracy. It has been described in an earlier judgment in respect of the applications for leave to appeal against conviction which we have considered. It was of a kind which has become unhappily familiar to the courts over a number of years, involving rapid sequences of wholly artificial transactions relating to the sale and purchase of mobile phones, the true purpose of which — as the two juries found – was to enable those involved to cheat HM Revenue out of enormous sums of money.

5

Each of the applicants submits that his sentence of imprisonment was manifestly excessive in length. Save for the issue which arises in the case of Bhabdeep Chahal, no grounds of appeal are put forward against the periods for which each applicant respectively was ordered to be disqualified from holding any directorship.

6

The grounds of appeal against the sentences of imprisonment raise a number of points which are common to all of the applicants. First, it is submitted that both the starting point which HHJ Inman adopted in respect of Charanjit Chahal, and the starting point which HHJ Mayo adopted in respect of Bhabdeep Chahal, were excessive when compared with those passed in other cases of MTIC fraud, and that as a consequence the starting points in respect of the other applicants were also too high. This issue became the subject of detailed submissions before us, in particular by Mr Blaxland QC on behalf of Bhabdeep Chahal, and we are grateful for the assistance we received from counsel.

7

Secondly, each applicant submits that his own role in the conspiracy has been overstated by the judge, with the result that his sentence is too high.

8

As we have said, the applicants Randhawa, Singh and Mallourides were of previous good character. Each of them submits that the judge failed to give sufficient weight to that and to other features of his personal mitigation.

9

It is appropriate in our view to begin with a reminder that each of the applicants was convicted on overwhelming evidence of being a party to the conspiracy charged in the indictment. It is important to remember that the judges in passing sentence had to have regard to the overall scale of the conspiracy as well as to the individual role of each applicant within that conspiracy, and to the amount which the conspirators intended to obtain as well as the amount which they actually obtained. It was rightly described by both trial judges as a conspiracy on a vast scale.

10

HHJ Inman noted that the combined sum of fraudulent outputs of the companies controlled by the applicants who were tried before him was in excess of £300 million. Although those companies were for the most part used as buffer companies in the fraudulent carousels, each of them did in addition act on occasions as the exporter of the goods concerned, and thus made a dishonest claim for repayment of VAT. The judge indicated that during the indictment period of less than a year, the three companies of which Bhabdeep and Charanjit Chahal were directors had made VAT repayment claims approaching £16m, of which about £5m had been paid by the Revenue before their arrest. The company with which Randhawa and Singh were concerned had reclaimed VAT of some £3.2m, of which they had received about £2.3m. The judge observed that those figures related only to the transactions in which the applicants' companies acted as exporters, and did not include their sales to other fraudulent companies which made the exports.

11

Although it was not possible to calculate with precision the total losses to the revenue, HHJ Inman (in his sentencing remarks at p5B) concluded:

"On the basis of that evidence, I am sure this was a vast conspiracy designed to cheat the revenue of tens of millions of pounds, and by the time of your arrest had cost the revenue tens of millions of pounds. The agreement extended throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Far East"

12

HHJ Mayo similarly referred to the fact that the invoices total for the three Chahal companies was over £258 million. He went on to say (at p2C of his sentencing remarks):

"The starting point in attempting to assess the loss must of course, in my judgment, be the total VAT reclaims of those three companies … just under £19 million over the period of this indictment, namely 2005; although for reasons which all present here understand, that cannot be said to be the final figure of loss either occasioned by or intended by the parts played by [the applicants before him] in this conspiracy".

13

It should be noted that in the period between the two trials the investigating officers had continued their efforts to quantify the loss caused to HM Revenue. At the hearing before us, it was helpfully agreed between counsel that in relation to the conspiracy as a whole the identifiable reclaims of VAT amounted in total to £18.9 million, of which HM Revenue had actually repaid £7.8 million. Although those figures differ to some extent from the corresponding figures to which each of the judges below referred, it is not suggested that the difference is of any significance to the outcome of these applications.

14

On behalf of the prosecution, Mr Munday QC pointed out that in a sophisticated carousel fraud such as this, the reclaims of VAT are not always made by any of the companies which can be associated with a...

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