Sarah Banitzky, 47, the UK’s most wanted man, was arrested in the Spanish village of Santa Barbara while walking her dogs. Banitzky is suspected of €1.2 billion in mobile phone tax fraud.
Sarah Panitzky has been a fugitive from the police since 2013. But after nine years, she can finally be arrested. It happened on Sunday in the Catalan town of Santa Barbara in the province of Tarragona. The woman is suspected of being a member of a criminal gang who bought mobile phones overseas for resale in the UK without paying VAT. Police said this tax fraud resulted in more than 1 billion pounds (1.2 billion euros) for the 16-member gang.
According to British investigators, Panitzky was responsible for laundering all that money through various companies of the gang in Spain, Andorra and Dubai. At one time this organization sold more cell phones in the UK than all legal stores combined. Of the sixteen gang members, only Banitzky was still at large.
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The woman disappeared in May 2013 and was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison in August of that year. Banitzky fled to Spain, the country with which she has family ties. I changed addresses several times.
Police discovered in 2015 that Banitzky was hiding in Olivella, near Barcelona. Her husband took her there only on weekends, closely guarded over essential goods. She hardly came out on her own so as not to doubt herself. Her arrest failed at the time, as she learned that the police were after her and she was able to completely change her appearance and escape.
She cut off all contact with her family in Spain to stay under the radar. Last month, police finally found shelter in Santa Barbara, a village between Barcelona and Valencia with a population of just over 4,000. On Sunday, the Civil Guard arrested her “in a large-scale operation”.
The extradition of the suspect to the UK has now begun.
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