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Tax fraudsters sentenced for £46m wine scam

Press Release   •  Jul 14, 2017 16:43 BST

Livio Mazzarello and Louisa Mbadugha

A pair of London fraudsters, who evaded £46.5 million in tax by smuggling wine into the UK, have been sentenced for a total of 17.5 years.

Livio Mazzarello, 57, and Louisa Mbadugha, 59, who ran The Italian Wine Company Ltd from premises in Neasden, lied about the quantity of wine they imported and sold to evade excise duty and VAT.

An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found the pair used false paperwork and re-used import documents to smuggle large quantities of wine into the country from Italy.

They sold the smuggled wine to retailers across the UK and Mazzarello laundered the proceeds of the fraud through the company using a string of bank accounts.

Both were found guilty of the offences on 8 June 2017. Mbadugha was jailed for three and a half years at the Old Bailey on 14 July 2017. Mazzarello, who absconded during the trial, was sentenced in his absence at the same court to 14 years on 30 June 2017.

Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Mazzarello and Mbadugha thought they had developed the perfect scheme to divert millions of pounds from public finances. They were stealing from the taxpayer and undercutting legitimate traders.

“The money they stole should have gone to fund vital public services, not straight into their pockets. They believed they could continue without fearing their criminal activities would be detected. They were wrong and we are working to reclaim any money they made from their crimes.

“We urge any member of the public who may have information about Mazzarello’s whereabouts or anyone committing tax fraud to get in contact with us by calling 0800 788 887.”

In April 2013, HMRC and the Italian Customs Authority conducted a number of co-ordinated searches and arrests in the UK and Italy. HMRC officers seized 70,000 litres of duty free wine and around £350,000 in cash, hidden in a concealed floor safe and above ceiling tiles at the company’s Neasden warehouse during the searches.

The extent of the fraud, committed between 6 June 2008 and 17 April 2013, is estimated at £46.5 million. Proceedings are underway to reclaim any profit obtained from these crimes.

Upon sentencing Louisa Mbadugha, His Honour Judge Philip Katz QC, said:

“You were foolish to be charmed by crooks. Your role (in keeping records) was critical otherwise this fraud could not have happened. Going to prison will have a profound effect on those you know and your standing in the community which has been destroyed."

Notes for editors

Details of the defendants’ sentences:

1. Livio Ernesto Mazzarello (DOB 20.06.60) of Cricklewood Lane, London, NW2, was found guilty of:

  • Evasion of excise duty under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and sentenced to six years.
  • Evasion of VAT under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and sentenced to five years.
  • Money laundering contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and sentenced to three years. The sentences run consecutively, adding up to 14 years. Mazzarello was the company’s principal shareholder.

2. Louisa Uzoamaka Eyinwa Mbadugha (DOB 06.02.58) of Lewis Crescent, London, NW10, was found guilty of:

  • evasion of excise duty under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (42 month sentence)
  • and with evasion of VAT under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 (two year sentence).

She was jailed for three and a half years, as her sentences run concurrently. Mbadugha was the company’s financial controller.

3. The Italian Wine Company Ltd, based in Neasden, London, was a Registered Consignee - a business approved by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to receive goods from another EU Member State under Duty Suspension arrangements. The business must notify HMRC of each consignment and account for the UK duty before goods are dispatched from the warehouse onto the UK market.

4. Photographs of the defendants are available on request or from HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

5. Follow HMRC 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.