The leaders of a criminal gang who set up a factory potentially capable of making up to 625 million counterfeit cigarettes and five million pouches of fake hand rolling tobacco a year have been jailed.
The plot, worth over £131m a year in lost revenue, was foiled when HM Revenue amp; Customs criminal investigators swooped and closed down the fully equipped cigarette factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, before it went into production. During the raid in September 2009 they discovered that the gang were also planning to expand into making counterfeit alcohol.
The investigators also seized cigarette manufacturing equipment destined for another criminal gang, capable of producing a potential 750 million cigarettes a year with an annual revenue loss of over £141m, and a five tonne tobacco cutting machine to process the tobacco to make counterfeit hand rolling tobacco.
Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale. The gang planned to launch a UK production facility, manufacturing counterfeit tobacco goods by the million. We had previously seized 1.25 million illegal cigarettes from them, so in the belief that they could make a bigger profit, they decided to make their own.”
Phillip Robinson, the leader of the gang was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison, and nine other men were sentenced for their roles in the plot.
His Honour Judge Jonathon Teare said: “The potential loss of revenue was substantial; the project was grand with a series of plans set to evade duty and make millions.” On sentencing Robinson, he said: “Your expectations were high and if you had succeeded you would be a millionaire by now and the public purse very much depleted.”