Tobacco smugglers jailed over £3.5m tax evasion

|News, Fraud and economic crime

Five men who smuggled tobacco into the UK in order to avoid £3.5 million in tax have been given prison sentences today (11 May).

he defendants, from Leeds, were tracked on multiple occasions when a Belgian HGV lorry was seen visiting a warehouse in the city where illegally imported cigarettes were being delivered.

The following day the lorry was stopped by UKBA officers on the way to the port of Dover. The load in the trailer was found to be poorly-constructed ovens - and inside an empty space at the back of some of the ovens were two red holdalls containing almost £500,000 in cash.

Packets of em@il brand cigarettes which are not permitted for sale in the UK were found inside other ovens. In total, the lorry load could have concealed more than 6.5 million cigarettes, with the potential to evade over £1.5million in tax.

A further 7.5 million non-duty paid Excellence branded cigarettes, worth more than £2million, were also found along with counterfeit Palace cigarettes and Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia tobacco.

On other occasions, the defendants were seen handing over holdalls and rucksacks of cash to each other containing tens of thousands of pounds, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Among those sentenced today was gang member Geoffrey Moon, 53, who was jailed for seven years. Sean Hirst, 52, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

Michelle Rhodes, from the CPS, said: “These defendants arranged for millions of cigarettes to be brought back to the UK from Europe knowing that there was money to be made in avoiding paying tax and subsequently selling them on.

“The CPS presented evidence of the millions of pounds changing hands between defendants which were the proceeds of the smuggled tobacco and the millions of cigarettes waiting to be sold in business premises around Leeds.”

Notes to editors

  • Michelle Rhodes is a Specialist Prosecutor in the CPS Specialist Fraud Division
  • Defendants and sentences:
    • Geoffrey Moon [DOB 04/08/1964] – seven years’ imprisonment
    • Sean Hirst [DOB 14/06/1965] – five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment
    • Paul Heselgrave [DOB 08/10/71] – 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. Also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work
    • Anthony Quennan [DOB 16/06/1960] - 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. Also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work
    • Gerard McKeown [DOB 03/11/1957] – eight months’ imprisonment, suspended for one year
  • Heselgrave, Queenan and McKeown pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue and concealing criminal property
  • Moon and Hirst denied the same charges but were convicted by a jury

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