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Illegal tobacco traders to repay £175k

Press Release   •  Jul 04, 2017 08:00 BST

Operation Iceage HMRC surveillance of the tobacco gang

Three Lancashire men, who were jailed last year for their part in a £16 million illegal tobacco fraud, have been ordered to repay more than £175,000 or serve extra time in jail.

Wayne Brown, of Darwen, Keith Allen, of Oswaldtwistle, and James Willmott, of Clayton le Moors, were caught by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) buying illegal cigarettes and tobacco to sell on from Iqbal Haji of Blackburn, during a surveillance operation in 2014.

The men were jailed in May 2016 for their part in a fraud that centred on a criminal network based in Blackburn. Six Lancashire men, including Haji, have been jailed to date in a series of linked court cases.

Debbie Porter, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“These were middlemen in the illegal tobacco trade. Organised criminal gangs cannot operate without these middlemen to distribute illegal goods and circulate criminal cash. These three have ended up behind bars and we’re now taking away everything their crimes got them.

“HMRC will recover money stolen through tax fraud for UK taxpayers. We will not allow criminals to profit from tax evasion. We are determined to create a level playing field for local businesses by disrupting the illegal trade and punishing the fraudsters. We urge anyone with information about the blackmarket in smuggled cigarettes and the associated tax evasion to contact us on 0800 788 887.”

On Monday 3 July, Brown, 52, owner of Blackburn’s Beechwood Club, was ordered to repay £67,616.16 within three months or a further 18 months will be added to his jail sentence and he will still owe the money.

HMRC’s financial investigators discovered Brown owned 12 rental properties in the Darwen and Blackburn areas in addition to the club.

Retired Keith Allen, 67, was ordered to repay £65,444.16 within three months or a further 18 months will be added to his jail sentence and he would still owe the money. HMRC found Allen had property, shares and savings worth £65,444.16.

Painter and decorator, James Willmott, 55, was ordered to repay £42,000 within three months or a further 15 months will be added to his jail sentence and he will still have to repay the money. HMRC found Willmott had £42,000 from the sale of a house.

Further confiscation hearings are pending for others jailed as part of this case.

Notes for editors

1.Wayne Russell Brown, DOB 03/08/64, a self-employed club owner, of Springvale Garden Village, Darwen, Lancashire, was sentenced to 13 months jail for Excise Duty evasion and 13 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 9 November 2015 at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 200 President, 4,000 Italian brand, and 821 other illegal cigarettes and 13 kilos of illegal HRT at his home. From 1 May 2014, Brown made 19 visits to a house in Whalley Street, Blackburn buying 1,227.35 kilos of HRT and 100,000 cigarettes, evading £64,272 in Excise Duty and VAT.

2.Keith Allen, DOB 10/07/49, retired, of West View, Oswaldtwistle, Accrington, Lancashire, was sentenced to four years jail for Excise Duty evasion and 18 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He was found guilty of five counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 10 March 2016, following a four day trial at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 7.85 kilos of illegal HRT along with £39,670 in cash plus €610 at his home. From 1 May 2014, Allen made 33 visits to Haji buying 1,549.5 kilos of HRT and 341,600 cigarettes, evading £359,025 in Excise Duty and VAT.

3.James Willmott, DOB 14/07/61, unemployed, of Warwick Avenue, Clayton le Moors, Accrington, Lancashire, was sentenced to 16 months jail for Excise Duty evasion and 16 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 9 November 2015 at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 7.5 kilos of illegal Amber Leaf HRT, 320 smuggled cigarettes and £3,414 in cash at his home. From 1 May 2014, Willmott made 17 visits to Haji buying 745.5 kilos of HRT and 40,000 cigarettes, evading a total of £143,830 in Excise Duty and VAT.

4.Details of the 2016 and 2017 court cases and photographs available at https://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/hm-revenue-customs-hmrc/pressreleases/oswaldtwistle-man-jailed-for-illegal-tobacco-2034325 and http://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/hm-revenue-customs-hmrc/pressreleases/lancashire-tobacco-network-jailed-for-ps16m-tax-fraud-1407561

5.There is no appeal against default jail sentences issued in confiscation orders and the order for repayment remains in place after the default sentence is served by the fraudster. If the assets held by the convicted criminal at the time of the order are less than the benefit derived from the fraud, then any future assets can be confiscated up to the value of the benefit of the fraud.

6.HMRC’s Flickr channel: www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

7.Follow HMRC’s Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.

HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.