A West Norfolk company director has been jailed after stealing more than £1.6m in tax while pretending to be a spy to hide his life of crime.

Raymond Thomas, 71, of Tilney All Saints, told family and friends he was a spy often working abroad when he was travelling to holiday homes he funded entirely through VAT fraud.

He told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators he worked for US Homeland Security producing key components for a drone. He even complained to the Prime Minister that HMRC had withheld money while investigations were ongoing.

Thomas was sentenced  at Manchester Crown Court on Wednesday, November 1 to 56 months in prison having earlier pleaded guilty to VAT fraud, money laundering and producing false documents.

His wife, Susan Weston, 69, of Kersal Way, Salford, was sentenced to 12 months in jail, suspended for 12 months, for money laundering.

Cheryl Burr, assistant director of Fraud Investigation Services, HMRC, said: “This was an astonishing case. Thomas lived a life of utter fabrication and lied to pretty much everyone he knew.

“In reality, Thomas was a criminal who carried out a sustained attack on the public purse stealing money that should have been funding our public services.”

Thomas claimed to run a business called Cambridge Computer Graphics (CCG), but a HMRC investigation found the business was a sham and he had created a string of false invoices using hijacked computer details to support fraudulent VAT refund claims between 2008 and 2013.

It was uncovered when a HMRC officer visited the business and found discrepancies following a claim for £98,000 in 2014.

During the visit, Thomas said his work for the US meant he had to destroy associated paperwork.

Checks with the US departments and other alleged suppliers, including leading defence and airline companies, revealed no business took place and invoices had been forged.

His wife helped launder the stolen money through the business using her personal bank accounts, the court heard. The pair were arrested after officers found Thomas had sent £81,700 to his wife’s account in August 2014.

A spokesman for HMRC said proceedings were under way to recover the stolen money.