Two men caught unloading smuggled tobacco from a truck in Kent have been jailed for a total of five-and-a-half years after an investigation by HMRC.
Bob Lee, 43, of Fairway, Church Hill, Boughton Monchelsea, Maidstone, and Benjamin Brazil, 29, of Glenbrook Grove, Sittingbourne, were caught by HMRC officers unloading 1.3 tonnes of Turner Blue tobacco from the vehicle at a Rochester industrial estate on 3 October 2016. The duty evaded on the tobacco, which was seized by officers, was £262,000.
Truck driver and ex-special forces soldier Steven Skender, 43, from Croatia, who was also arrested at the site, told officers he was taking a break at a service station on the Luxembourg-Germany border on 1 October 2016, when he was approached by a man who offered him £1,000 to transport 10 boxes of tobacco to the UK.
Skender said “window tapping”, where truck drivers are asked to transport illegal goods to the UK in return for cash, was a frequent occurrence. He had been approached on numerous occasions, but had declined. He agreed to do it this time because he was offered £1,000, which would help pay for car repairs.
The three were charged with being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of any duty chargeable on goods contrary to section 170(2) and (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. Lee and Brazil denied the charge, but were found guilty after a two-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court and were sentenced on 16 July.
Lee was sent to prison for three-and-a-half years and Brazil for two years. Skender, who had previously pleaded guilty to the charge, is due to be sentenced at a later date.
Brett Wilkinson, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These men thought they could make money smuggling and selling illicit tobacco while stealing from UK taxpayers. Tobacco fraudsters are costing the UK around £2.5bn a year in lost taxes and undermining legitimate, local businesses.”