Five men have been sentenced for money laundering and smuggling offences following an undercover operation by HM Revenue amp; Customs.
More than three tonnes of hand rolling tobacco, enough to make 6 million cigarettes, was seized during raids at industrial units and residential premises in Kent and Surrey.
The gang was stopped after a surveillance operation led HMRC investigators from Tilbury Docks to Hobbs Industrial Estate in Lingfield Surrey in June 2010. Officers arrested Philip Newman, Adam Clark and Wayne Rapson as they were caught in the process of unloading boxes of smuggled tobacco into a storage warehouse. The tobacco was hidden within pallets of rubber sheeting. In addition, £257,100 in cash was found at the scene and confiscated.
Further investigations by HMRC led to the discovery of a second smuggling gang based in Rochester which included Jake White and Mark Matthews. They were identified after 880kg of tobacco was found in a vehicle at Dover on the 6 June 2010. HMRC used DNA and forensic evidence to link all the gang members together.
When officers searched Jake White’s home they found 50,000 smuggled cigarettes. The search of Mark Matthews home uncovered over 30,000 illicit cigarettes, 70 kilos of smuggled tobacco and £19,000 in cash part of which was hidden in the extractor hood of the cooker.
The total duty evaded on the seized goods is estimated as £500,000.
Philip Newman pleaded guilty to three charges of money laundering and evasion of excise duty and was sentenced to three years in prison. Adam Clark and Wayne Rapson pleaded guilty to evasion of excise duty and a money laundering charge and were both sentenced to18 months in jail. Jake Andrew White pleaded guilty to evasion of excise duty, money laundering and harbouring tobacco goods,amd was sentenced to two years in jail, and Mark Matthews pleaded guilty to illegally harbouring tobacco goods and was given a three-month suspended sentence and will have to complete 200 hours community service.
Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation for HM Revenue amp; Customs (HMRC), said: “This gang was motivated solely by greed and personal gain and if they had not been stopped they would have flooded local markets with cheap unregulated tobacco. We are keen to work closely with local businesses that have to unfairly compete against illegal sales. We would encourage anyone who knows of someone selling cheap or duty free cigarettes and tobacco to contact our Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”