By Jamie-Lei Roberts
Anastasios Arnaouti, or ‘Tas’ as he is more commonly known, has spent ten years of his life behind bars. He saw the inside of his first prison cell in 2001, when he was sentenced to ten months for counterfeiting vehicle documents.
Two prison sentences later, 53-year-old Tas is reformed and trying to use his freedom more wisely: helping others and spending time with his family.
He spent his first ten months in a D-Category prison, a “college for criminals.” This is where Tas met a group of cons who gave him a proposition for a larger scale money counterfeiting scheme. “They targeted me because of my graphic design capabilities.”
They solidified their plans in a tomato shed loaned out to Kirkham prison. They found six private investors and specialised machinery. Tas left prison to find £360,000 in his safe at home. This would be used to obtain the equipment.
“Our client wanted half a billion and he was paying us five million cash. I never told [the police] that. They assumed something like a million a day. Every box we had was a million dollars in hundred-dollar bills. We put fifty boxes on a pallet and sent ten pallets of fifty million [to the client].”
After £80,000 of the £50m they put into the banking system was found to be fraudulent, they were caught. “I was arrested on Friday 13th December,” Tas laughs. He received a four-and-a-half-year sentence, and another in 2008.
No one wants to hire a criminal. I didn’t know that before
Tas struggled adjusting to prison life away from his toddler, George. But he had a harder time transitioning back to normality when he was released in 2005. “[The court] took everything. They took my house, my Dad left me his café and they took the café. And that was left in a will. I thought because it’s clean you keep it, but you don’t.”
Without being taught a trade in prison he didn’t have the skills to find work, and in the process of ending a loveless marriage, he didn’t have much on the outside. “I had no rehabilitation, I had nothing. I wasn’t earning any money at the job that I were doing ‘cause that was on a commission basis ‘cause that’s the only job I could get. No one wants to hire a criminal. I didn’t know that before.”
Tas resorted back to criminality. He spoke to some contacts from prison and began importing cannabis. “I don’t do things in halves. If I do it, I’m gonna do it proper. So we imported tonnes of cannabis. In six months, I had about half a million quid.”
This is when Tas met his, now wife, Rosie. “Because I had something to live for now, I thought, right, I’ve got to get out of this shit.”
Around that same time, Tas became involved with a member of a gang- ‘a crew of thieves’- being tracked by the police. “I met [the member] outside the [storage] unit, about half a mile away and we were being watched. I walked back to the unit and they followed me. They heard his telephone conversations about a tonne of cannabis coming in. When it arrived he arrested us all.”
His strong relationship helped him through his sentence. “With Rosie it was different ‘cause she visited me all the time. While you’re on remand you get five visits a week, so Rosie came every day. And then after that I phoned her morning, noon and night.”
Prison’s a horrible, horrible place
But Tas was now away from his loving home. “You’ll only suffer [in prison] if you’re weak or if you’ve lost something, like your missus, the people you love.” With his son and stepson, it was harder to maintain a relationship, and he’s still working hard to strengthen those bonds.
“Prison’s a horrible, horrible place,” says Tas, “full of people that should really be there.” Famous counterfeit leader turned major drug importer; he was safe in prison. “I’m on the next level of criminal. I’m the high echelon. Nobody’s gonna intimidate me or try and bully me, there’s no chance of that.” Tas was untouchable in prison, but he wasn’t blind to the suffering of fellow inmates.
In prison he signed up to be a listener for the Samaritans to give those targeted a voice. “I could tell you some horror stories. I seen people around me getting bullied and hurt and I wanted to do summat. You’ve gotta go and do a course with the Samaritans on how to listen. You can’t give advice, you’ve got to listen to people, let them offload.”
Tas felt rewarded during his time as a listener, and it led to him joining other charities both during prison and afterwards. “We helped quite a lot of people and I was happy to do that cos it helped me.” He became a chef for the prison canteen through the charity Recycling Lives prior to his release. He considers Recycling Lives as a ‘pioneering company’ in his rehabilitation.
When he left prison, he continued to do charity work through the company and was offered a kitchen role at a pub in Knutsford. He was provided a £350 car that he could pay back in his own time, with free tank refills for the first month. “They loved me. I was working nine/ ten-hour shifts. I ended up as the sous chef.
“Their business improved a lot. I was there for about four months, then went back to Recycling Lives to pay the £350 for the car and [the boss] comes in and says put the money away and forget about it. I felt that kindness.”
Recycling Lives offered him a job as the head of procurement, trusting him with company cards for large investments and his own staff to manage. The company went on to win an award for Recycling Commercial Team of the Year in 2018. For his hard work and progress, the team gave him the award. “You feel the acknowledgement, you feel pride. I won the Recycling Commercial Team of the Year and two years prior to that I was in a prison cell with a load of scumbags. And now I’m at the Hilton getting this prize presented.”
Being Cypriot, Tas speaks fluent Greek, and now, Tas and Rosie live part-time in Manchester, where Tas spends quality time with his boys; and part-time in Thessaloniki, where he can focus on the three respectable businesses that he co-owns. Every year since his release, the couple have taken out food parcels to the homeless, and this year will be no exception.
“I don’t regret my crimes. I regret losing time with my family. All I can do now is be a better person. If I didn’t have Rosie and Recycling Lives, I’d probably still be at it.” Tas has a fraudulent note framed in his Manchester home as a memento of his past and a reminder of how far he has come.