Nigel's Eyes

20231102 LycaMobile: conviction and sentencing is not the big deal it is being sold as.

There is a lot of fuss and even political capital being made over the successful prosecution and the sentencing of mobile telco LycaMobile and its former CEO.

Hold your horses: it's not the big deal that the uninitiated are claiming.

Lyca Mobile (official name LycaMobile) is a British telecoms company operating in more than 60 countries.

Lyca Mobile does not own or operate its own network: essentially, it buys network access in bulk and resells it to end users for more than it pays but less than a user would pay for direct access. There is nothing new about this: it was the basis of an entire discount landline telephone call industry in the 1990s, commonly known as "calling cards." They were especially popular amongst the diaspora in the UK, providing cheap calls "home".

Lyca Mobile sells mobile SIM cards that (in simple terms) intercept the signal and divert it via its own servers to a network carrier. It was formed in 2006 and was the first company in what is now The Lyca Group which says of itself that it consists of "16 businesses spanning telecommunications, media & entertainment, healthcare, travel, technology, financial services, marketing, and hospitality. "

In 2021, the group's media page said "British-Sri Lankan entrepreneur Allirajah Subaskaran has taken an equity stake in Ligue 2 side Paris FC. The investment is made through BRI Sports Holdings, which is wholly owned by Allirajah Subaskaran, the founder and chairman of the Lyca Group set of companies in the UK". It also announced, in August 2022, that it was "closing its business in Russia" because "The current climate has made it extremely difficult to run an effective operation and serve our customers in the way that we would like" without making any mention of how and why it was still operating there so many months after the imposition of sanctions.

But its press office makes no mention of the prosecution in France or its result. That doesn't prevent the media carrying stories, though. Earlier this year, Subaskaran met Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa in London. Shortly after that his government did a deal relating to Channel Eye. Critics say it was sold to a company associated with Lyca; the official position is that its airtime has been leased for the purposes of rebroadcasting sports events.

The mobile business operates in a complex regulatory and fiscal environment and French prosecutors alleged, and the court found, that its French companies were fined a combined total of 10 million euros having been convicted of VAT fraud and associated money laundering. The court found that the total involved was 17 million euros and that the company was aware that a tax scheme operated by two salesmen using shell companies in a single district of Paris, La Chapelle, was illegal. La Chapelle is known for its large Sri Lankan population.

LycaMobile says that as soon as it identified the practices used by the two salesmen, they were fired and the practices stopped. The court was didn't accept that it was all done beneath the covers and has jailed two of the company's officers.

The group’s former chief executive officer Christopher Tooley was sentenced to three years in jail for tax fraud fined 250,000 euros. Lycamobile’s General Manager in France, Alain Jochimek, was sentenced for tax fraud and money laundering to three years in prison, including eighteen months supervised release, with a fine of 120,000 euros.

So, on the face of it, it's a big important, even landmark, case.

Except that it isn't.

VAT fraud is the scourge of much of the world. Directors of companies are penalised for it all the time. In the UK alone there are several cases each year where VAT fraud involving companies see directors jailed.

So, despite the fuss, and the near-celebrity of the chairman, it's time to move along. There is nothing to see here.