A South African convicted of defrauding HM Revenue and Customs is fighting to keep out of jail as the authorities try to confiscate assets he claims he does not have.
Lawrence Goldberg, 48, has spent a year behind bars in Britain after pleading guilty last September to a tax scam of £1.1 million.
But at a hearing at the Old Bailey, which began last week, he denied that he had any money to return.
The Crown Prosecution Service valued the lifestyle he enjoyed through his criminal pursuits at more than £1.5 million. That left Mr Goldberg potentially facing a 10-year jail term if the authorities continue to believe he is hiding assets.
But shortly before last week’s court appearance, the Crown offered him a deal: if he were to admit to having £249,999 of assets, he could either pay up and retain his liberty or receive a maximum three-year sentence instead.
Mr Goldberg, who has had to represent himself in court after parting company with two sets of lawyers, maintains there is no money to recover. He says the proceeds from his previous activities went on such things as a long-term drug habit and payments to employees.
In 2007 Mr Goldberg left the UK after tax investigators closed in on what was later described as “fraud against public funds on a huge scale”.
In South Africa he was arrested on allegations of defrauding a bank but acquitted after spending three years before trial in jail. There he experienced what British prosecutors have acknowledged was “inhuman treatment” from fellow-prisoners.
According to the Johannesburg Saturday Star, Mr Goldberg lost half his teeth and suffered rectal injuries from attempted rape with a broomstick.
After his acquittal, he was extradited to the UK to face charges of tax fraud. He received a four-year sentence, reduced to two because of his time in prison in South Africa, and released after serving six months, on top of the six months he had previously spent on remand.
The confiscation case is due to resume next month.