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Golf professional jailed for 15 months at Inverness Sheriff Court after committing VAT fraud to keep his troubled Brahan Golf Club in Ross-shire from collapsing

By Ali Morrison

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Jon Wiggett.
Jon Wiggett.

A GOLF professional who bought his own golf course and then pocketed over £150,000 in VAT has been jailed for 15 months.

Inverness Sheriff Court heard yesterday (Monday) that Jon Wiggett (51) didn't lead an affluent lifestyle.

He was desperate to keep his business at Brahan Golf Club outside Conon Bridge going and used it to keep the club afloat.

His lawyer, solicitor advocate Mike Chapman told Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood: "The business was a spectacularly unsuccessful venture and instead of closing it down he used the VAT money to keep it going.

"He didn't have expensive holidays and there are no assets to speak of. He has been unable to pay off any of the money and is realistic about his prospects today.

"But he is concerned about going to prison because his wife, a Swiss lady, has no support network in this country."

In March this year, Mr Chapman, successfully persuaded Sheriff Sara Matheson to allow his client to keep his freedom for a little longer to safeguard his wife, Claudia's accommodation.

Mr Chapman explained that the land on which Brahan Golf Club is situated was leased from the Brahan Estate.

The lease also included the Wiggett's house which is run as a bed and breakfast by them.

Mr Chapman said: "He needs time to get his affairs in order before a likely custodial sentence is imposed. The land will be returned to grazing for a local farmer but extensive fencing is required and my client has to provide it.

"Since he has no money to pay someone, he has to do the work himself which will take three to four weeks and then that will allow his wife to continue living in the house and running her business."

Sheriff Matheson agreed to postpone dealing with Wiggett until April 14. However the Covid crisis intervened and Wiggett appeared for sentence yesterday.

At an earlier hearing, the court heard that he admitted fabricating VAT returns with false invoices and defrauded the Inland Revenue of £154,091 between November 2013 and January 2017, paying the money into his own account.

Depute fiscal Karen Aitken said the case was highlighted to HMRCs Individual and Small Business Compliance Department as part of a Repayment Taskforce because of the volume of VAT repayments that Wigget had received.

"HMRC officers based in their Inverness office contact Jon Wigget in February 2017 to arrange to visit his premises to inspect his books and records on April 25, 2017."

Wigget was present and various documents were given to compliance officers in order to substantiate the figures on the VAT submissions.

The documents were reviewed and ultimately referred to the Fraud Investigation Service in HMRC.

The golf club premises were searched on October 17, 2017 and various items relating to the business were seized along with a laptop computer.

Investigations revealed that invoices were fraudulently created and a subsequent examination of the laptop revealed the invoices were stored there.

Wiggett started playing golf at the age of five and was a scratch golfer by the age of 15. He won many local and regional junior tournaments including the 1985 North East Junior Strokeplay Championship before turning professional at the age of 16.

His career took him to Finland and Norway before he moved to Switzerland in 1994. Initially teaching golf, Wiggett became interested in greenkeeping and golf course construction which he specialised in for over 10 years.

His website declared: "When the opportunity arose at Brahan to construct his own golf course,Jon decided to realise his dream and move to Scotland. With his qualifications and experience as PGA Professional, Head Greenkeeper, Construction Site Supervisor, Project Manager, Construction Plant Operator and Mind Coach, Jon has the ability to successfully realise this exciting project."

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