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Issue:- 1 May 2014

£5 million illegal tobacco fraud foiled

5 men have been arrested after the discovery of equipment used for producing illegal cigarettes and tobacco products in Greater Manchester and Essex. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers raided a farm in Essex this week as well as 4 premises near Bury and another in Blackburn, Lancashire two weeks ago and seized cash, chemical agents, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery. The officers dismantled a tobacco processing plant in Essex and seized over three tonnes of raw tobacco that was in the process of being converted into counterfeit hand rolling tobacco from an industrial unit in the Bury area. The estimated loss to the Exchequer is around £5 million in unpaid duty and VAT.   Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC said:- "It is clear from the chemicals and machinery we found that this gang planned to produce and sell illegal tobacco products across the UK. Illicit tobacco factories hidden in our communities are packaging low quality tobacco and I'd urge people to be wary. Cheap tobacco may seem like a bargain, but there are no controls over what is mixed into the counterfeit product and by buying it smokers are funding international organised crime gangs. Anyone with information about the transport, storage or sale of cheap cigarettes or tobacco in the North West or further afield, can help us by calling the Customs hotline on:- 0800 59 5000."

The tobacco processing and packing equipment was removed from the Essex farm, the Bury industrial unit and three private addresses, along with a van used by the gang. A further eight tonnes of tobacco valued around £1.8 million in evaded duty and tax was seized in Preston in 2013 as part of this operation. All the tobacco seized will be burned to fuel the National Grid.

Details of seizures and arrests in this HMRC operation:-

On Wednesday, 23 April 2014, extensive plant equipment and counterfeit tobacco packaging seized at a farm in Halstead, Essex. One man, aged 42, was arrested on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty contrary to the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) 1979.

On Thursday, 3 April 2014, 3 tonnes of tobacco, plant equipment, cash and counterfeit packaging were seized in Bury,
Greater Manchester. 4 men were arrested, 2 from Bury, both aged 35, and two from Blackburn, Lancashire, aged 41 and 29, on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty contrary to CEMA.

In November 2013, 8 tonnes of raw tobacco was also seized in the Preston area of Lancashire. Enquiries continue into all these seizures.


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