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5 May 2019, 07:35 | Updated: 5 May 2019, 07:38
More than £1 million has been recovered in Scotland as part of a crackdown on fraudsters selling puppies on the black market.
A taskforce was set up by HMRC in October 2015 to tackle dog breeders across the UK after welfare groups suggested that tens of thousands of puppies were being reared in unregulated conditions and sold illicitly.
Officers uncovered fraudsters selling puppies on a mass scale and for huge profit.
Due to the underground nature of the activity, the sellers had failed to declare their sales.
In the west of Scotland, two unconnected puppy breeders were handed tax bills of £425,000 and £337,000, while a puppy dealer in the east of the country was handed a tax bill in excess of £400,000 as part of the probe.
Using a full range of civil and criminal enforcement powers, HMRC recovered a total of £5,393,035 in lost taxes in the UK from 257 separate cases since the formation of the taskforce.
Several arrests have been made as part of the taskforce's work across the UK over the past four years.
HMRC is also involved in Operation Delphin, a multi-agency collaboration across the UK and Ireland designed to tackle illegal puppy smuggling and its consequences.
It is led by the Scottish SPCA and includes partners such as the RSPCA, Ulster SPCA, Dublin SPCA, Irish SPCA, Border Force, and the police.
The head of the Scottish SPCA's Special Investigations Unit, who cannot be named due to undercover operations, said: "Unfortunately, the puppy trade is big business, with thousands of dogs being brought into the country each year, particularly from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
"It is a multimillion pound industry and many of these poor dogs are bred on large scale puppy farms with little to no regard for their welfare.
"We have seized 27 puppies smuggled from Ireland at Cairnryan Port in Dumfries and Galloway as part of Operation Delphin, which is dedicated to ending the illegal puppy dealing industry and bringing those who prioritise profits over animal welfare to justice.
"It's a barbaric trade which commands huge profit from selling puppies. Often these puppies are kept in appalling conditions and this leads to injuries, health issues and behavioural problems.
"Some are so far gone that they pass away from complications due to the way they are bred and kept.
"The efforts of all involved in the taskforce have helped us to make inroads into this brutal trade but it is a growing problem.
"Last year nearly half of all animals seized by the Scottish SPCA were rescued from puppy farms and I would urge everyone to sign the pledge #SayNoToPuppyDealers and send a clear message that this cruel trade has to end."