£14.7m tobacco smuggling gang jailed for 28 years
A tobacco smuggling gang that evaded more than £14.7 million in duty have been jailed for a total of more than 28 years.
The gang of 11, from across the UK, were caught following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
According to the tax authority, the group, all Lithuanian nationals, shipped millions of illegal cigarettes into the UK from Belgium, hidden in window frames, textiles and bags of charcoal. HMRC investigators uncovered the smuggling plot after intercepting a shipping container in Cambridgeshire on 15 September 2016.
The container, which had arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, was being unloaded when investigators swooped in. Nine people were arrested and more than 3 million non-UK duty paid cigarettes were found.
A further 7 million cigarettes, concealed in window frames, were seized by HMRC at a warehouse in Catfield, Norfolk, on 4 October 2016. Two people were arrested in connection with the find.
Nine previous importations linked to the gang are all believed to have contained illegal cigarettes.
Alison Chipperton, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, said, “This was a multimillion-pound illicit business involving a close-knit gang of criminals. The logistics were planned meticulously, trackers were used on consignments, mobile phones were changed regularly and only trusted people were in on the plot.
“Several members of the group tried desperately to frustrate our investigations, providing false names, leaving the country and failing to attend court, but justice has now been served.
“The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.8 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Seven of the gang were convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty in two separate trials at Southwark Crown Court, while the remaining four pleaded guilty to the crime. Following sentencing, the illegal cigarettes will now be destroyed.