Ritain’s ‘most wanted’ woman will be returned to the UK in the coming days after losing her fight against extradition.
University graduate Sarah Panitzke had asked Spanish judges to reject an extradition request to the UK, which would have seen her serve an eight-year prison sentence for a multimillion-dollar VAT fraud of books pronounced in his absence by a London court in 2013.
She had claimed the right to be able to serve her sentence in Spain given her close ties with her “adopted homeland”.
But the judges dismissed her appeal and the 48-year-old fraudster, arrested in February in a Catalan village after nine years on the run, is now living her last days in a prison near Madrid before being repatriated to Britain. to begin his prison term.
The two months she has spent behind bars since being arrested by an elite Spanish anti-fugitive unit as she walked her dogs near her hideout, seven years after escaping a first police attempt to catch her with a wig and an emergency backpack, will be taken out of the time she has to serve.
Panitzke’s high-profile arrest on February 27 made headlines in Spain and the UK, as she was the only woman on the National Crime Agency’s most wanted list.
The Yorkshire-born property developer’s daughter told Civil Guard officers detaining her that she felt ‘hurt’ at being compared to men linked to some of the UK’s most horrific violent crimes after his detention.
On Tuesday it emerged that she had been living for seven years before her arrest with a fake Italian ID in the name of Antonietta Argiulo, although Maria Antonietta’s name was reportedly scrawled on a postbox outside the apartment where she locked herself.
His refuge was a three-bed cottage on the outskirts of the small town of Santa Barbara in the province of Tarragona south of Barcelona.
Defense lawyers fought her extradition to the UK on the grounds that she had close ties to Spain having lived in the country since the mid-1990s and married a local man 17 years ago.
They said her husband had a life expectancy of just 10 years due to a liver transplant and would not be able to visit her in the UK if she was extradited.
Lawyers also alleged that the crimes with which Panitzke was charged – and later convicted – would have been passed under Spanish law in legal arguments rejected by a Madrid court on appeal.
A date for her return, which is expected to involve British police traveling to Spain to take her into custody on a plane at Madrid’s Barajas airport, has yet to be set.
A well-placed judicial source said on Tuesday afternoon: ‘Sarah’s extradition has not yet taken place but it will take place in a few days.
Panitzke was sentenced in her absence to eight years in prison in August 2013 for laundering £1billion in a massive mobile phone VAT fraud after she disappeared during her trial at Kingston Crown Court.
The Spanish-speaking and Catalan brunette, who attended the prestigious fee-paying St Peter’s School in York before studying Spanish at university, vanished into thin air during a money laundering trial in May 2013.
She was convicted in her absence for laundering money through businesses in Spain, Andorra and Dubai for a criminal group that bought mobile phones overseas without VAT and resold them in the UK .
Panitzke was recruited into notorious tax criminal Geoffrey Johnson’s fraud ring located across the UK after meeting an acquaintance.
She remained the only member of the 18-person gang on the run because Chief Johnson was arrested in Dubai in 2017 and subsequently sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The leader of the elite Civil Guard team tasked with leading the operation to nab Panitzke, called the Civil Guard’s Central Operational Unit Fugitives Task Force, said after the arrest: ” Sarah told us in the car on the way to Barcelona after her arrest that it hurt her a lot that her photo ID was included alongside all the men linked to violent and despicable crimes on the list of people wanted by the National Crime Agency.
“She also claimed that she had wanted to surrender but never found the right opportunity. “She said she felt she had already had her day as she had been living in near total isolation for several years, cut off from family and friends.
“Her father died while she was on the run and she did not attend his funeral. “We asked Sarah why she never came to visit and she told us that while she was alive he had made it clear that he would rather not see her than see her in prison.
“She also complained that she could only buy cheap gin for her gin and tonic when her money was running out and not the more expensive gin she had always enjoyed.
“It was a case of, ‘I had a good life and now the life I lead is pitiful.'”
Neighbors in Santa Barbara said she would go swimming in the apartment building’s community pool during quiet lunch hours, but lived a very low-key life and rarely invited anyone over to her house.
One of the officers involved in his arrest was an undercover police officer who, seven years earlier, had inadvertently raised his suspicions as he walked past his former hideout to examine him more closely and try to confirm his identity. She ended up on the run with a wig and an emergency backpack and remained on the run for another seven years.
Spanish police said after her detention that she appeared to continue to protest her innocence despite her arrest, telling officers accompanying her on the car ride to Barcelona to be fingerprinted where she opened up after years of silence: “She said the ringleader was the one who was guilty of everything and had done nothing wrong and was not to blame.
“She called him the ‘fat bastard’ who got her into all this. It’s a story we’re used to hearing when we arrest people on the run.
“There was a moment when she got a little emotional, but there wasn’t a flood of tears. I think it was more a matter of relief after going so long without speaking to anyone and having suddenly saw a lot of people focusing on her.
The fraudster’s mother, 77-year-old widow Pauline Panitzke, reacted to news of her daughter’s arrest at her home in the sleepy village of Market Weighton, east Yorks, saying: ‘At least , I know she is safe and healthy.”