4 April 2011, 14:30
Four men, including a man from Suffolk, have been jailed for their part in an international smuggling operation.
The gang, including Robert John Minshall from The Hamiltons in Newmarket, were in the process of setting up an illegal counterfeit tobacco factory which would have netted them many millions of pounds in unpaid duty when they were raided by HM Revenue & Customs.
John Kay, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation said:
"This was a planned fraud on a huge scale. If it had not been stopped the UK market would have been flooded with massive quantities of illegal counterfeit tobacco products. Criminals do not care who they sell to, they are only out to make a profit and line their own pockets."
The plot was uncovered when more than 100 HMRC officers, supported by Police and the Serious Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA) raided premises in Suffolk, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Essex in July 2008. The scam was linked to Bulgaria and in a joint operation, officers from the Bulgarian National Counter Organised Crime Agency simultaneously searched premises in Bulgaria.
Robert John Minshall made arrangements to purchase a tobacco manufacturing machine from a company in Bulgaria. Although he made several visits to the country and contractually agreed to the importation of the machinery the delivery never took place. The day to day operation of the shredding machine and manufacture of the illicit tobacco products was to be controlled by three other men from the Essex and Nottinghamshire areas.
All four men were charged with conspiring to cheat the public revenue and have now been sentenced. Robert Minshall has been jailed for two years and has been given a Serious Crime Prevention Order for five years. The other three men have been jailed for a total of more than five years between them.
Kay added: "If you suspect or know about any illegal activities please call our 24 hour hotline on 0800 59 5000."