First woman on British Most Wanted list arrested after decade on the run

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The only woman ever to be put on Britain’s most wanted list has been arrested in Spain after almost a decade on the run.

Sarah Panitzke, 47, a money launderer involved in a £1bn tax fraud, was caught while walking her dogs in rural Catalonia on Sunday morning.

By Tuesday, she had appeared in court and was being held in a Spanish jail as the UK began extradition proceedings.

The Yorkshire-born criminal was put on the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) list of most wanted fugitives after she absconded in May 2013 while on trial for her leading role in a fraud gang.

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Panitzke was convicted and sentenced in her absence to eight years in jail following a HMRC investigation.

She laundered money through companies in Spain, Andorra and Dubai for a group that bought mobile phones abroad without VAT and resold them in the UK, making a £1bn profit.

Panitzke and her 17 co-conspirators were given jail terms totalling 135 years. All the others were jailed while she remained at large.

She was caught in Santa Barbara, a hillside town near Tarragona, south of Barcelona in an operation by Spain’s Guardia Civil that was supported by HMRC.

Panitzke is handcuffed by Guardia Civil in Santa Barbara hideout.

Guardia Civil said Panitzke was able to hide in Spain due to family ties there.

In 2015, police tracked her down at a location in the Barcelona satellite town of Olivella, where her husband would visit on weekends to give her supplies.

Police said an arrest attempt was foiled as she fled and changed her appearance. She was found to have cut off all physical connection with her family in Spain after this.

Investigators searched for years to no avail before finally getting a lead in February that Panitzke was hiding in Santa Barbara.

Panitzke was taken in by police on Sunday.

They set up a surveillance operation and after weeks detected a woman living in a flat block on the outskirts of the town who fit Panitzke’s physical description.

Officers arrested her on Sunday 27 February as she walked her dogs.

The NCA’s international deputy director Tom Dowdall said: “Sarah Panitzke has been on the run for almost nine years.

“Given the length of time she might have thought we had stopped searching, but she remained on our radar.

“Joint working between UK law enforcement and our partners in Spain led to her being apprehended, and we will now seek her extradition back to the UK to serve her prison sentence.

“This should serve as a warning to others on our most wanted list: We will not rest until you are captured, no matter how long it takes.”

Panitzke is said to have grown up in a wealthy family in the village of Escrick, near Selby, North Yorkshire.

She went to York College for Girls before moving on to fee-paying St Peter’s School, which claims to be the third oldest school in the world.

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