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23 February 2011, 06:00
A gang of five who smuggled nearly 4 million cigarettes into the UK by hiding them in computer cases have been jailed following an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
The majority of the illicit cigarettes were smuggled into the UK from Estonia using legitimate couriers who were unaware of their illegal contents. A number of the consignments were intercepted on route to both private addresses and storage premises in Luton, Dunstable, Barking and Fife in Scotland. The cigarettes were smuggled into the UK by the gang between July 2007 and April 2009 and the duty lost is approximately £600,000.
The illegal activities of the three woman and two men were stopped after a series of early morning raids in both the UK and Estonia uncovered the multi million pound smuggling and money laundering scam.
Nigel Parsley HMRC’s acting Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation in Eastern England said: “If this gang had not been stopped they would have made millions of pounds at the expense of honest shopkeepers and flooded local markets with cheap and unregulated cigarettes. These criminals do not care who they harm. They often sell to children and young people and they are only out to line their own pockets. The prison sentences handed down today will send out a clear message that this criminal behavior is unacceptable and will be stopped. If you have any information on any smuggling activities please telephone our 24 hour hotline number on 0800 59 5000.”
Sergei Molotkov, an Estonian national living in Barking in Essex, was sentenced to 18 months. His partner and a mother of two Liliana Markus a Latvian national received a 12 month suspended prison sentence and 250 hours community service. Both had pleaded guilty to smuggling and money laundering offences at an earlier hearing. When officers searched their home they found large quantities of illicit cigarettes and the empty computer cases that had been used to smuggle them into the UK.
Lidia Aleksejeva and her brother Oleg Ratt, both Estonian Nationals, pleaded guilty to cigarette smuggling and money laundering. They were sentenced to 12 months and three years respectively. Ratt was additionally charged and pleaded guilty to harbouring illegal goods. Ratt was caught red-handed and was arrested outside his lockup in Eddiwick Avenue Dunstable, while he was waiting for a delivery of cigarettes. Officers were searching the building as a courier arrived with a parcel containing illicit cigarettes. Inside the lockup they found laundry bags stuffed full of cigarettes along with a number of empty computer housing units that had been used to smuggle them into the UK.
Jelena Drobisevskaja, also an Estonian national living in Fife, Scotland, arranged for the parcels full of smuggled cigarettes to be delivered to her home. She pleaded guilty to smuggling offences and was sentenced to a 9 month suspended prison sentence and 300 community service.
HMRC investigators linked the five through bank transfers, finger print analysis, a diary with a tally of the cigarettes and computer records found in their homes. HMRC investigators also liaised with the Estonian Customs Board who arrested one Estonian national in connection with the operation.