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A taxi driver from Gillingham, who attempted to smuggle over 3.6 million counterfeit cigarettes into the UK concealed behind pallets of loose slate, has been jailed for evading around £925,000 in excise duty and VAT.
Baljinder Singh of Imperial Road was caught transferring cigarettes from a sea container into two vans at an industrial unit in Tilbury, Essex in 2011.
The Metropolitan Police, who were carrying out a surveillance operation, detained Singh and the cigarettes. The case was then passed to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for investigation. Singh was arrested and the cigarettes seized.
Paul Barton, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, HMRC said: "If this illegal operation had not been stopped millions of potentially dangerous counterfeit cigarettes would have reached the UK’s streets.
"Criminals involved in this type of crime don’t care who they harm; they are only out to make a profit. Their illegal activity undermines honest local retailers and allows unregulated cigarettes to get into the hands of children and young people.
Baljinder Singh was found guilty on 17 May 2013 after a six week trial. He was jailed for five years.
Upon sentencing, His Honour Judge Holt, said: "This was a sophisticated smuggling operation and you were involved well before the cigarettes arrived in the country.”
He also commented that Singh was a “senior figure in the importation…essential to the fraud and responsible for the distribution of the cigarettes".
The counterfeit cigarettes arrived from China into the Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk, in May 2011. Import documents described the goods as 26 pallets of loose slate, with a delivery address in Ipswich.
Investigators found that an innocent company’s details had been used as a cover for the load, but instead of being delivered to Ipswich the pallets were diverted to an industrial unit in Tilbury.
The court heard the unit was raided by Metropolitan Police officers who discovered cigarettes on the evening of 26 May 2011. They alerted HMRC investigators who found 3,639,800 counterfeit cigarettes in the back of a recently delivered container and in two vans parked outside. Singh was arrested at the unit, and later charged with duty evasion.