An accountant and two accomplices from the West Midlands have been jailed for stealing £2.6 million in VAT by creating numerous bogus travel companies to make false repayment claims.

Parmjit Rana, 47, a chartered accountant, of Vicarage Road, Smethwick, set up 19 fake travel businesses across the UK which were operated by his co-defendants who helped launder the criminal profits of the fraud.

He was jailed for four years at Wolverhampton Crown Court and disqualified from being a company director for ten years.

Adrian Farley, assistant director of criminal investigation for HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), said: "This was a calculated plot by a man in a position of trust who deprived the nation's public services of millions.

"We are determined to take the strongest possible action against professionals who direct organised criminal activity and will now work to reclaim the proceeds of this crime."

Criminal investigators from HMRC discovered that Rana created the fake travel companies and instructed his co-defendants to set up bank accounts which were used by them to reclaim VAT on zero-rated travel services. They would then withdraw the repayments credited by HMRC in cash.

However these companies provided no public travel services which was their stated business and no evidence was found of any trading activity.

Rana ran two accountancy businesses - Rana Accountants and Anderson Accountants, and created a false one called Silverwood Accountants, all in the West Midlands. These three firms of accountants handled the VAT returns for all of the travel companies, validating their false VAT returns in order to secure repayments from HMRC.

Also jailed was co-defendant Graham Albert Scriven, 53, of Wilden Top Road, Stourport-on-Severn, who helped the fraud by creating and forging documentation including invoices and VAT returns. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

In January, Ajmer Kooner Singh, 41, of Birmingham Road, Great Barr, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. His role in the fraud was to control eight bank accounts connected to fake travel companies. He submitted false VAT returns, accepted the repayments from HMRC and withdrew the cash and handed it over to Rana.

A fourth defendant, Amrit Singh Mangat, 57, previously known as Romeshwar Singh Mangat, of Westfield Road, Edgbaston, was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. Mangat controlled the bank accounts of two of the travel companies. He submitted false VAT returns, accepted the repayments from HMRC and withdrew the cash and handed it over to Rana.

All four defendants admitted the offences.

A Confiscation Order is being pursued and assets of £2.75 million have been restrained.