The former chairman of Leyton Football Club has been jailed for more than eight years over a £16 million VAT scam involving ‘phantom’ houses.

Former chairman and manager Costas Sophocleous, 52, of Nursery Road in Loughton, and two others, fraudulently claimed VAT for ten years through a fake building company specialising in new housing developments.

The three claimed millions in VAT rebates for the cost of homes that were never built.

Following an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Sophocleous was sentenced for eight years and six months at Isleworth Crown Court yesterday after admitting fraud at an earlier hearing.

His accomplice, Philip Foster of Grosvenor Gardens, in Woodford Green, who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced to five years and three months.

Their accountant Stewart Collins, 52, of Fairlorn Close in Hornchurch, Essex, denied his involvement, but a jury found him guilty on November 18 last year and he was sentenced to six years yesterday.

They were each sentenced for four counts of Cheating the Public Revenue contrary to Common Law.

The HMRC discovered that the millions claimed fraudulently were spent on expensive houses, and some of the proceeds were used to build the E10 bar and cabaret club.

Clive Cottrell, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC said: “VAT fraud is not a victimless crime and we take a serious view of people robbing the public purse.

"Our investigators work tirelessly to pursue those who commit such fraud and these sentences will serve as a deterrent to anyone considering committing tax fraud.”

Leyton FC board member Barry Abbott confirmed that the chairman has stood down and has been replaced by former vice-chairman Tony Hardy.

He said: “We are moving forward as ever and on Monday completed putting in 500 seats in the Wembley stand, so there are no problems with the club. We have moved on from what has happened.”

Mark Sophocleous and Alison Sophocleous, son and wife of Costas Sophocleous, were found not guilty of associated money laundering offences during the five week trial at Isleworth Crown Court.

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