Man jailed after extradition over life insurance fraud - Surrey

28/05/2012

A 57-year-old man who faked his own death and started a new life in Australia in order for his wife to fraudulently cash in a life insurance policy and write-off debts has been jailed today, Monday, 28 May 2012, for five years.

Hugo Jose Sanchez, formerly known as Alfredo Sanchez, admitted 12 counts of fraud at Oxford Crown Court at a hearing in April (details of charges below).

Mr Sanchez was extradited from Australia in March 2012 after a successful request to the Australian authorities by Thames Valley Police's Economic Crime Unit (ECU) and the Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Complex Casework Unit (CCU).

The extradition was the culmination of a five-year investigation into Sanchez and his wife Sophie, which began in 2007 when Sanchez's former employers, HMV, based in Marlow, Bucks, first contacted police with concerns about a policy they had paid out.

In 2004, the couple were living in Farnham, Surrey, with their four children and Mr Sanchez was working as a web designer at HMV. During the course of the year he took out a number of loans and life insurance policies and ran up credit card debts that were covered by payment protection insurance (PPI).

In September 2004, they rented out the family home and emigrated to Costa Rica. Mr Sanchez then returned to the UK to continue working for HMV, before leaving in December of the same year.  At that time, his employers thought he had gone on holiday, but noticed his desk had been cleared of personal possessions.

The following month, Mrs Sanchez called HMV to say her husband had died after suffering a heart attack in Ecuador and had been cremated. She provided the firm with a death and cremation certificate and received a death benefit payment of £112,000. She also began to receive pension payments.

In April 2005, Mrs Sanchez returned to the UK to appoint a solicitor to obtain probate on the estate. She provided the solicitors with the death certificates and went on to complete claim forms in respect of the other insurance policies, some of which were settled that year.

An insurance investigator was appointed by the larger companies affected who established that friends and Mrs Sanchez's family in the UK all understood Mr Sanchez was alive and well, and living in Costa Rica. The remaining claims were refuted and HMV wrote to the couple requesting that they return the money.  They did not receive a response.

In 2007, HMV reported the matter to Thames Valley Police and in 2008 the matter was passed to the Force's Economic Crime Unit (ECU).

Evidence was gathered from all the companies affected and in April 2008 detectives learned that Mr Sanchez was alive and residing in Australia, after making enquiries with his wife's family.

Further enquiries established he was using the name Hugo Jose Sanchez and not Alfredo Sanchez, which he had used while in the UK. Officers later found out that in 2001 Mr Sanchez had changed his name by deed poll from Alfredo to Hugo Jose Sanchez.

In the same year he married his wife again using this new name (they had previously married in Ecuador in 1991). He then continued to use his old name when taking out the policies and at work.

Officers continued to gather evidence to support an extradition request and the case progressed when Mrs Sanchez was arrested at Heathrow Airport when she returned to the UK for a family engagement on 06 September 2010.

She was arrested and charged, and in December 2010 she was jailed for two years at Oxford Crown Court, after admitting six offences of obtaining and attempting to obtain money through deception and evasion of liability by deception. A subsequent court hearing ordered her to repay £158,000 to the victims of the fraud.

Efforts to extradite Mr Sanchez continued and officers recovered the original cremation certificate, used by Mrs Sanchez to obtain probate. On examination, the cremation form had fingerprints, which were found to match those of Alfredo Sanchez.

In December 2010 an international arrest warrant was granted and in May 2011 officers applied for Mr Sanchez's extradition at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.

Officers travelled to Ecuador in July 2011 to gather evidence relating to the death and cremation certificates. While in Ecuador they established that Mr Sanchez's real name was Hugo Jose Sanchez and Alfredo was the name of his younger brother, who was still living in Ecuador.

A renewed arrest warrant was issued and officers liaised closely with the Australian authorities to progress the extradition process, resulting in Mr Sanchez being arrested by the Australian Federal Police in Sydney in November 2011.

Officers with the ECU travelled to Australia in March 2012 to take Mr Sanchez into custody and brought him back to the UK to face charges outlined in the arrest warrant.

Baljit Ubhey, OBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern CPS said: "This was a planned deception involving multiple frauds committed over a period of time.  There were elements of professionalism in the use of forged documents and engaging solicitors, though the frauds were not polished.  Hence, the discovery of Sanchez's thumb print on his cremation certificate confirmed that he was very much alive and well and the driving force behind the preparation and execution of this scheme.

"The total amount obtained or sought to be obtained up to the scheme's discovery was almost £850,000.  Had it not been discovered, Mrs Sanchez would have continued to receive significant pension amounts for many years.

"Today's outcome demonstrates to people who commit such offences that they are never safe from justice and that our determination to ensure that justice is done remains undimmed, even years after offences are committed.

"One of our priorities is to make sure that fraudsters do not escape to enjoy the benefits of their crimes and that victims are properly compensated.  The principal victims of this complex fraud have already been compensated by assets recovered from Mrs Sanchez in 2011.  However, the Crown seeks to deprive Mr Sanchez of his benefit from this offending and compensation proceedings will now commence against him."

Detective Constable Jacqui Bartlett, of the ECU, said: "Today's result is the culmination of a five-year investigation in order to bring Mr Sanchez to justice. It has been a complex case, which ultimately became an international investigation.

"Mr Sanchez and his wife orchestrated a fraud involving a host of companies in a bid to obtain a large amount of money and believed they had got away with it.

"Mr Sanchez then started a new life in Australia, which was known to both his and his wife's families, unaware his crimes would eventually catch up with him.

"We have worked tirelessly on this case for the past five-years, liaising closely with the Australian authorities throughout. Without their help and also the invaluable assistance from the Ecuadorian Police and Fiscalia in Manta, today's result would not have been possible."

The charges Sanchez admitted in court were:

  • Two counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception (HMV and Swiss Life - insurers to HMV). Amounting to £138,366.08
  • Two counts of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception (Liverpool Victoria and Legal & General). Amounting to £617,000.
  • Six counts of evasion of liability by deception (Capital One, Sterling Credit - part of HFC Bank, HFC Bank, Nat West and Royal Bank of Scotland - two counts). Amounting to £95,196.53 (£65,065.16 was recovered by Sterling Credit).
  • Two counts of attempting evasion of liability by deception (MBNA - two counts). Amounting to £7,014.12.