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Tobacco seized in North West

Press Release   •  Jul 05, 2017 15:36 BST

Operation Brut cigarettes seized by HMRC

An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco across Greater Manchester and Merseyside uncovered nearly two million cigarettes and more than 80 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, all believed to be illicit.

Around 120 officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support from local council trading standards, police, and British Gas, visited 82 retail premises and eight self-storage units on 28 and 29 June.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to suspected illegal tobacco being seized and other potential offences being detected at 26 premises. This included:

  • 1,815,960 cigarettes, with an estimated £453,241 duty and VAT evaded
  • 83.3 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with an estimated £21,343 duty and VAT evaded

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“The sale of illegal tobacco 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 £2.4 billion a year. By combining intelligence and resources with other agencies we are able to disrupt suspected criminal activity including but not exclusively tax evasion. These offences undermine legitimate traders and we want to level the playing field for all businesses.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact us on 0800 788 887.”

In addition to the HMRC tobacco seizures:

  • Eight properties were targeted on suspicion of energy theft by British Gas’ revenue protection team, with more than £40,000 of energy thought to have been stolen from four of the properties alone
  • a cannabis farm including 29 plants was dismantled in Liverpool
  • one van, being used to transport tobacco that was believed to be illicit, was seized
  • each premises where a suspected offence was detected will now have the business accounts audited and the owner and employees may be subject to personal financial scrutiny by HMRC.

Andy Norman, Head of Customer Services Field Collections, British Gas, said: “Electricity and gas theft in homes and businesses is a serious issue, which places lives at risk and adds unnecessary costs to customers’ bills. This latest joint operation proves, together, we can tackle energy theft more effectively.

He added: “I’d urge anyone who suspects cases of energy theft in homes and businesses in their local community to call our British Gas tip-off line on 0800 587 2737.”

Notes for editors

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

2. Since 2000, we have reduced the illicit market in cigarettes by more than a third. In the last two years alone, over 3.5 billion illicit cigarettes and almost 600 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized resulting in 848 prosecutions.

3. HMRC can also levy civil penalties on anyone handling, using or supplying non-duty paid tobacco or alcohol products.

4. HMRC taskforces target specific high-risk sectors where there is a risk that some are not paying the tax they owe. Since taskforces began in May 2011, more than 140 taskforces have been launched, bringing in more than £540 million.

5. Taskforces bring together various HMRC compliance and enforcement teams for intensive bursts of activity targeted at specific sectors and locations where there is evidence of high risk of tax evasion and fraud. The teams visit traders to examine their records and carry out other investigations.

6. Anyone with information regarding fraud can contact the new HMRC Fraud hotline on 0800 788 887 or report it online via: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/reportingfraud/online.htm

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

8. HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

  1. 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.