A Sussexbusinessman who defrauded Britvic and Customs and Excise out of six-figure sums in a soft drinks scam has escaped a £400,000 confiscation order.

Juan Carlos Miranda, 34, of Princes Drive, Seaford, was told by three judges - including the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham - that the confiscation order had been made outside a strict six-month time limit and had to be quashed.

Miranda pleaded guilty at Croydon Crown Court in July 1998 to conspiracy to defraud and a VAT Act offence. On April 1 last year he was jailed for 33 months and a £436,340 confiscation order was made against him.

Lord Justice Nelson told the court Miranda had traded in Seaford as Antares Importacioney Distribution, whose business included the export of soft drinks from Britain to the Canary Islands. He opened an account with Britvic International Ltd, from whom soft drinks were bought for export at rates which were preferential and not subject to VAT.

But the judge said Miranda in fact sold substantial quantities of soft drinks within the UK, charging more than he had paid Britvic. He also charged VAT but it was never paid on to Customs and Excise.

Britvic became suspicious after drinks sold for export turned up in a Wembley cash and carry, but Miranda continued with his fraudulent activities until his arrest in June 1996. The potential loss of profit to Britvic on UK sales was put at £293,584 and Customs and Excise said they had lost £63,467 in VAT.

The court was told Miranda was married with two small children and was of previous good character. Both he and his wife have suffered from depression since his conviction and sentence, and Miranda and his family had found his time in prison hard to bear.

Dismissing Miranda's appeal against the length of his jail term at London's Criminal Appeal Court yesterday, the judge ruled 33 months was severe but not excessive. Overturning the confiscation order, the judge said it had been made more than six months after Miranda pleaded guilty and thus fell outside a strict legal time limit.

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