Charity trustees guilty of gift aid fraud must return £44,000 to HMRC

Husband and wife Mark and Elizabeth Lewis were given prison sentences last November for making fraudulent tax-relief claims on non-existent donations

HM Revenue & Customs
HM Revenue & Customs

Two charity trustees handed jail sentences over their part in an £885,000 gift aid fraud scheme have been ordered to return £44,000 to HM Revenue & Customs.

In November, husband and wife Mark and Elizabeth Lewis were sentenced at Swansea Crown Court to four years and 18 months in prison respectively for their part in the fraud.

Mark Lewis made 13 fraudulent claims to HMRC between 2007 and 2010 for gift aid on donations that had never been made to the charity MSL Mountaineering Trust. Lewis himself had set up the charity, which had the objects of helping disadvantaged young people and was originally named the Welsh Independent School of Climbing and Mountaineering. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

Elizabeth Lewis, who had denied the charges, was found guilty of assisting in laundering the proceeds of the fraud in September 2013. Her sentence was suspended for two years. At the time of the crimes, she was a fraud investigator at the Department for Work and Pensions.

According to the Charity Commission’s report on the case, published today, in April this year HMRC made confiscation orders against the couple. Mark Lewis was ordered to pay back £5,920 and Elizabeth Lewis was told to pay £37,820.

Failure to pay by 24 October will result in an additional three-month sentence for Mark Lewis and a 15-month sentence for Elizabeth Lewis. These amounts "are based on recoverable assets as determined by the court", according to the report, which is available online.

The charity itself was closed in July 2010 "following notification from trustee Mark Scott Lewis that it had closed because it had fulfilled its objects", according to the commission’s report.

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the commission, said: "In this case, some of the other trustees had misplaced their trust and had been shamefully duped by an individual intent on exploiting a charity for his own gain. It serves as a stark reminder that each trustee must play their part in protecting their charity and be wary of the very real risks posed to charities when they fail in their duties."

Colin Spinks, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: "HMRC is grateful to the Charity Commission for referring information about MSL to us. We do not hesitate to investigate and take action against those who cheat at the expense of the law-abiding public."

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