The UK tax department has seized three non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as part of an investigation into a suspected VAT fraud scheme involving 250 fake companies.
HM Revenue and Customs said on Monday it had seized the NFTs and arrested three people on suspicion of attempting to defraud it out of £1.4m. It is the first time a UK law enforcement agency has seized an NFT.
NFTs are unique digital tokens that first appeared in 2014 and can be bought and sold in crypto or traditional currencies but which have no tangible form of their own.
Nick Sharp, HMRC’s deputy director economic crime, said the NFT seizure “serves as a warning to anyone who thinks they can use crypto assets to hide money from HMRC”, adding:
“We constantly adapt to new technology to ensure we keep pace with how criminals and evaders look to conceal their assets.”
Helen Davenport, partner at the law firm Gowling WLG, says
“This clearly demonstrates the impact-growth of this area and the difficulties that fraudsters face when using crypto-assets to hide their wrongdoings – contrary perhaps to some public perception regarding their nature. HMRC’s move, alongside a recent crackdown by the ASA on misleading advertising around cryptocurrencies, further demonstrates the authorities and regulators’ growing focus on crypto-assets.
“It is also a good example of HMRC’s practices evolving in line with the changing nature of the economy and taking into account the increasing value and prevalence of digital assets.”
The jump in fuel costs will put more pressure on household budgets, with inflation expected to rise above 7% in April.
British employers are expecting to award pay rises of 3% in 2022, the highest in at least a decade, though well below the rate of inflation, as they try to recruit and retain workers, according to a new survey of businesses.
The expected pay rise comes amid persistent signs of a tight labour market, with almost two-thirds of employers expecting to have difficulties filling job vacancies in the coming six months, according to a survey of more than 1,000 recruitment and human resources workers by YouGov for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Pay growth has risen sharply higher than it was before the pandemic, thanks in part to the pace of the economic recovery following coronavirus lockdowns at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Average weekly earnings rose by 4.2% year on year in the three months to November 2021, faster than at any point between the financial crisis in 2008 and the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. The latest data on wages and employment will be published on Tuesday, with economists expecting pay growth to slow, but remain above pre-pandemic levels.
UK petrol price hits record high over 148p/litre
Petrol and diesel prices in the UK have hit record highs, adding to the cost of living squeeze on families and the inflationary pressures hitting businesses.
The average price of a litre of petrol topped 148p for the first time ever on Sunday, at 148.02p.
That lifts the petrol price over the previous high, set in late November. It means filling up a 55-litre family car from empty would cost £81.41, points out motoring body RAC.
Diesel has also reached a new all-time high at 151.57p, having risen above its previous record last week.
RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams warned that fuel prices are likely to keep rising, with the Ukraine crisis having pushed oil to a seven-year high this morning.
With the oil price teetering on the brink of $100 a barrel and retailers keen to pass on the increase in wholesale fuel quickly, new records could now be set on a daily basis in the coming weeks.
“The oil price is rising due to tensions between Russia – the world’s third biggest oil producer – and Ukraine, along with oil production remaining out of kilter with demand as the world emerges from the pandemic. As a result drivers in the UK could be in for an even worse ride as pump prices look certain to go up even more.
Luke Bosdet, the AA’s fuel price spokesman, said that worries about energy supplies have pushed up fuel costs:
“The cost of living crisis has been ratcheted up yet another notch, tightening the vice on family spending when it faces other pressures from impending domestic energy cost and tax increases.
Prices have soared on the back of wholesale fuel prices, which have jumped amid a resurgence in demand following the reopening of global economies, but have also been spurred in recent days by concerns that Russian tensions could have an impact on supply.
Full story: Global markets tumble as Russia-Ukraine tensions hit shares
European markets followed Asian shares sharply lower, with the UK’s FTSE 100 down 160 points, or 2%, at 7,501 in morning trading. Travel-related stocks were hardest hit, including the British Airways owner, IAG, which was the biggest faller on London’s blue-chip index, down 7%.
The jet engine maker Rolls-Royce was down 4%, as only five companies on the FTSE 100 made it into positive territory.
There were heavy falls across Europe, led by Germany’s Dax, which was down 3.7%. Italy’s FTSE MiB, France’s Cac and Spain’s Ibex all fell by about 3.5%.
Heightened expectations of a Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted renewed fears of disrupted energy exports at a time when the market is already tight. It drove the price of Brent crude oil to above $96 (£71) a barrel for the first time since September 2014, before easing back to $94.
Oil has dipped back from its seven-year highs, with Brent crude back at $94.50 per barrel.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) chief Fatih Birol this morning urged the OPEC+ group of oil producers to close the gap between its words and its actions (more here).
On Friday, the IEA said the failure of Opec and its allies to hit their production quotes was creating market volatility.
After over two hours trading, European stock markets are still deep in the red, with Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC down around 3.2%.
Every stock on the DAX is lower, led by Deutsche Bank (-4.8%) and insurance groups Munich Re (-4.5%) and Allianz (-4.3%).
Tiremaker Continental (-4.3%) and carmaker Volkswagen (-4.1%) are also in the DAX top fallers.
It’s a similar picture in Paris, where banks such as Societe Generale (-6.5%) and BNP Paribas are in the fallers (-5.1%), along with industrial groups and carmakers such as Renault (-4.9%).
Neil Wilson of Markets.com explains:
Banks and Autos led the decliners on the [pan-European] Stoxx 600 with losses of around 3-4%
Banks are being hit as they are not only exposed to Russia through outstanding loans (SocGen, UniCredit etc) but also fears that Russia could be cut off from the Swift payments network.
The VIX index, which tracks volatility in the markets (known as Wall Street’s fear gauge) has risen to its highest level in just over two weeks:
The US dollar is strengthening today, hitting a two-week high, as nervous investors seek a safe haven.
This has pulled the pound down by half a cent to $1.351, with the euro down 0.3% at $1.132, their lowest levels in around a week.
Carlo Alberto De Casa, external market analyst at Kinesis Money, says the Ukraine crisis is
Tensions between Russia and the West are the main market driver today.
For months inflation, central banks and monetary policy have been the main topics for investors. The situation has suddenly changed in the last few days, as tension over Ukraine rose.
On the currency markets, the US Dollar remains strong, while both WTI (West Texas Intermediate), and Brent (the benchmark for the oil of the North European Sea) are traded above $94/barrel.
The 100-dollar mark does not seem too far and this, of course, could push inflation even further.