The Spanish authorities have detained a British woman who was convicted of having laundered the proceeds from a fraudulent scheme involving cellphones and that brought in some £1 billion ($1.33 billion). The detainee, a 47-year-old whose initials are S. P., was part of a 16-strong criminal gang. She was the only one of the group to have evaded the law.
According to the Spanish Civil Guard, the organization operated by purchasing cellphones abroad in order to avoid paying sales tax (VAT) on them, before reselling them in the United Kingdom.
S. P. was in charge of laundering the proceeds from the scheme via companies that she held in Spain, the small principality of Andorra and Dubai. According to investigators in the United Kingdom – where she was dubbed the country’s “most-wanted woman,” the BBC reports – the network managed to sell more handsets than were sold by legal stores. The 16 members of the organization were tried in 2013 but S. P. failed to appear at several hearings before fleeing the UK altogether. She was sentenced in her absence to eight years in jail.
S. P. has family ties in Spain, which led the British authorities to contact the Civil Guard on the suspicion that she could have been hiding out in the country. In 2015, investigations determined that she was located in Olivella, in Barcelona province, and that at weekends her husband was visiting her. The woman rarely left her hideout and her partner took advantage of his visits to bring her basic supplies. An attempt to arrest her was made but she had become aware of the police operation, changed her appearance and fled.
Following the arrest attempt, the convicted fraudster stepped up her precautions and broke off all links with her relatives in Spain. In February, the authorities got information that she was located in the small municipality of Santa Bàrbara, in Tarragona. For weeks, dozens of officers were monitoring the area, and discovered that she was living in an apartment block on the outskirts of the town. She was arrested on February 27, when she was walking her dogs. She will now be held in custody until she can be extradited to her home country.