Two men have been jailed for their role in a plot to smuggle nearly 24 million counterfeit cigarettes into the Midlands, following an investigation by HM Revenue amp; Customs (HMRC). The conspiracy would have seen nearly £4m drained from the UK economy through duty evasion.
London-based Andreas Apostolides and Costas Georgiou, who were sentenced to five years in prison, were the masterminds behind the conspiracy. They formed a company called Bellgate in 2002 and a further company called Orion in 2009.
The companies were used to front the smuggling operation in an attempt to present themselves as legitimate importers, mainly of dried pasta from Greece and stoneware from China. They were found guilty of conspiracy to evade duty through smuggling four separate consignments of counterfeit cigarettes, which had been seized by HMRC officers. The seizures were:
- July 2009 – a consignment of nearly 5.3 million counterfeit Regal cigarettes, seized from a unit at Rosswalk Industrial Business Park, Leicester.
- March 2009 – a consignment concealing around 7.5 million counterfeit cigarettes branded as Gold Classic destined for Saltley, Birmingham. The container was hijacked in an armed raid from the gates of the Birmingham trading estate but was seized later that day by West Midlands Police attending a separate offence at a unit in Small Heath, Birmingham.
- March 2009 – a consignment concealing nearly 7 million illicit Racquel cigarettes, destined for Saltley, Birmingham, was seized at Tilbury docks.
- September 2008 – a consignment concealing around 4 million counterfeit cigarettes of various brands was seized in Tipton, West Midlands. Three other men from the West Midlands pleaded guilty to tobacco smuggling offences relating to this seizure and were sentenced in March 2010.
Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale. Their plans were extremely well engineered in their bid to saturate the Midlands with illicit cigarettes – most of which were counterfeit. This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”