Fugitive Tyneside tax cheat Bobby Webber faces being stripped of his luxury Tenerife bolthole after a landmark legal ruling.
Club singer Webber is on the run after failing to pay back a penny of the thousands he illegally pocketed in UK benefits while living on the Spanish island.
After he failed to comply with a Proceeds of Crime Act order, a warrant was issued for his arrest in 2011 but Webber has still not paid up and remains at large.
In the past his assets could have been safe abroad but new regulations mean UK authorities now have the power to get other European member states to enforce confiscation orders.
Now, after what prosecutors say is the first application of its kind, a judge has granted permission for the Spanish authorities to chase up 73-year-old Webber’s ill-gotten gains.
Judge Paul Sloan QC, at Newcastle Crown Court, said: “These provisions enable confiscations made by the UK to be enforced by other member states.”
Webber owns a luxury villa in the Amarilla Golf complex, on Tenerife, the proceeds of which would be more than enough to pay back the £75,000 he owes.
Judge Sloan said: “The available amount, which included the property in Spain, was sufficient to meet the benefit figure and a confiscation order was made in the sum of £75,000. It has not been satisfied and the defendant is at large and has not been traced.”
Prosecutor David Comb said the successful application was the first of its type since European regulations were brought into force in the UK in 2014.
Properties held in other European countries can be confiscated by the UK authorities with the help of other member states if they are the proceeds of an offence or were used in an offence.
Webber was made the subject of a confiscation order in November 2009 after staging a five-figure benefit fraud from his Spanish home. But more than six years after he was jailed for 51 weeks, he has failed to hand over a single penny of the confiscation order. A warrant for his arrest issued in August 2011 remains outstanding.
In an interview in 2014 from his Tenerife home, Webber claimed he had been forced to accept benefit fraud allegations to protect his family and said: “If I come back to England I’ll be locked-up.”
At the time he claimed his famous bar, the Penny Farthing in Tenerife’s Los Cristianos, which he has owned for 30 years, had been closed for four months as he struggled to make a living. Webber also said his luxury £410,000 three-bedroom villa in the upmarket Amarilla Golf complex was on the market but he had been unable to offload it. And he said his marriage had collapsed and he was desperate to return to Gateshead but was “stuck” in Spain.
Webber, previously of Barmston Court, Washington, said: “I can’t pay the money, I’m divorced and I’ve had nothing but problems. I’m sitting here with no cash. I’m stuck here, the house has been up for sale since I came back. You can’t sell anything here because no-one has any money. I’m in a Catch-22, I’m stuck. It’s caused me hell. I’ve got family in England but if I go over there I’m going to get locked-up. I’ve not paid the bill. The Penny Farthing is closed, it’s been closed for four months. I’ve got no money coming in. The whole thing has upset me, everything has upset me from start to finish. I don’t need this at my age.”
Webber said he served just three months of his 51-week jail term in Durham Prison before being electronically monitored on his release.
After he finished his sentence he fled to Spain. Clips posted on YouTube from 2013 show the former club singer entertaining crowds.
During the original hearing in 2009 he admitted four offences of failing to disclose information in relation to benefits and one offence of money laundering. The total value of the offences was £75,000.
Webber had claimed council tax benefit, housing benefits, income support and pension credit while he had a home in Tenerife. He admitted failing to notify a change of circumstances, deliberately hiding his Spanish property to get £69,000 in benefits. Following his conviction he was told he must pay back the money within six months or serve 21 months in default. But that ruling - in 2009 - has fallen on deaf ears and he has failed to pay back the cash.