Drink and tobacco smuggling ring busted by tax team sting

An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Croydon, Tooting, Sutton and Streatham uncovered more than 49,180 cigarettes, 2.15 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and 731.3 litres of alcohol, all believed to be illicit.

A further 43.06 kilos of chewing tobacco, 10.98 kilos of oral snuff, and 85.5 kilos of shisha tobacco were also seized, as well as £2,600 in cash. 

Around 56 officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support from Border Force, Trading Standards, Licensing Police and local authorities, visited 78 retail premises between 17 March and 23 March, 2018.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to suspected illegal tobacco  and alcohol products being seized from 16 premises. This included:

  • 49,180 cigarettes, with an estimated £14,000 duty and VAT evaded
  • 2.15 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with an estimated £451 duty and VAT evaded
  • 43.06 kilos of chewing tobacco and 85.5 kilos of shisha, with an estimated £14,663 duty and VAT evaded
  • 10.98 kilos of oral snuff
  • 731.3 litres of alcohol, with an estimated £1,372 duty and VAT evaded

Chris Gill, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2.5 billion a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1.3 billion per year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Gillian Deane, Border Force Assistant Director at Gatwick Airport, said: “By working with other enforcement agencies, such as HMRC and Trading Standards, we will continue to tackle this illegal trade head on.

“The black market cheats honest traders and it is effectively stealing from the public purse. People tempted by cheap tobacco and alcohol should think again.”

Merton Council’s Assistant Director of Public Protection, John Hill, said: “This week has seen a co-ordinated clampdown across Merton on those retailers who are putting public health seriously at risk by selling fake products which are not what they are purporting to be.

“With often a far more dangerously high tar content than the genuine item, such fake tobacco and cigarettes are often filled materials such as excrement and dead flies and contain a very low level of genuine tobacco content.

“This kind of activity is not only immoral, it is dangerous and illegal and we will continue to work closely with the public and our partners to stamp it out.”

Paul Browne, Wandsworth Council’s Licensing and Trading Standards Manager said: “We fully supported this crackdown on the sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol, within Wandsworth, as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure a level playing field for legitimate traders.

“This type of criminality often involves much more than just simple tax evasion, as the criminal gangs who distribute these goods use the profits to help finance more serious crimes such as people trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and modern day slavery.”

Two tobacco detector dogs and their handlers helped officers uncover cigarettes hidden in various parts of the shops.

  1. Croydon: Officers seized 41,820 cigarettes, 650g of hand-rolling tobacco and 600g of chewing tobacco from six retail premises and £2,600 in cash from the sale of illegal cigarettes.
  2. Tooting: 5,800 cigarettes, 1kg of hand-rolling tobacco, 42kg of chewing tobacco, 85.5kg of shisha, 10.7kg of oral snuff and 672 litres of beer were seized from four retail premises.
  3. Sutton: 1,220 cigarettes, 285g of oral snuff and 58.6 litres of spirits were seized from four retail premises.
  4. Streatham: 340 cigarettes, 460g of chewing tobacco, 500g of hand rolling tobacco and 70cl of spirits were seized from two retail premises.

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