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Cigarette smugglers must repay stolen tax

News   •   Aug 18, 2015 14:15 BST

The ringleader of a gang that used an airline’s staff discount travel programme to smuggle cigarettes through UK airports has been handed a confiscation order for £348,705.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found that flight attendant Dennis Connolly, 44, of Southport, had organised over 130 smuggling trips for himself and five others, using discounted staff tickets to travel. The gang hid cigarettes and tobacco, worth £180,000 in evaded duty and taxes, in their luggage.

Connolly and his accomplice, Terence Steele, 58, of Liverpool, were each issued with confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act at Manchester Crown Court yesterday.

Zoe Ellerbeck, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

“Airline employees hold a position of trust and abusing this privilege is a serious matter. Connolly organised subsidised travel purely for smuggling purposes. There are no excuses for smuggling, whatever your status, and HMRC are determined to recover stolen taxes.

“Tobacco fraud costs honest taxpayers more than £2.1 billion a year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality. Anyone with information about illicit tobacco sales or smuggling should contact the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

Connolly and Steele made large purchases of duty-free tobacco in Spain and Portugal for the gang to smuggle back to the UK.

Connolly received a confiscation order for £348,705 and Steele received one for £111,671. After assessment of their available assets, Connolly was ordered to repay £21,543within three months or 15 months will be added to his jail sentence, and Steele was ordered to repay £109,297 within three months or serve two years in jail.

Notes for editors

1.Dennis Jamie Connolly, DOB 08/06/71, of Hawkshead Street, Southport (previously of Warrington), an airline cabin crew employee, was ordered to repay £21,543.62 within three months or 15 months will be added to his jail sentence. The court agreed he benefited by £348,705.76 from his smuggling crimes and a confiscation order was issued for the full amount. HMRC also seized £1,000 in cash from Connolly which has been forfeited to the public purse. He was jailed for 21 months at Manchester Crown Court on 1 October 2014. He pleaded guilty in July 2014 to conspiring with others to deal in smuggled goods and evade UK duty under the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) 1979 at the same court. Connolly booked 131 smuggling trips for himself and others.

2.Terence Steele, DOB 15/06/57, of Abbotsbury Way, Croxteth, Liverpool, was ordered to repay £109,297.05 within three months or serve a two years in jail. The court agreed he benefited by £111,671.38 from his smuggling crimes and a confiscation order was issued for the full amount. HMRC found he had an undeclared bank account in Isle of Man. Steele was stopped in November 2013 as he attempted to pass through the Customs Green Channel with 20 kilos of hand rolling tobacco (HRT) in his luggage, after a one-day trip to Faro, Portugal. On 1 October 2014, he was sentenced to 12 months jail suspended for two years and ordered to undertake 120 hours community work. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with Dennis Connolly to deal in smuggled goods and evade UK duty under CEMA in July 2014 at the same court.

3.The smuggling gang consisted of five men and one woman from Warrington, Liverpool, St Helens and Southport. They were caught out when three of them were stopped by Border Force officers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on two separate dates. An investigation by HMRC linked the smuggling activities of the gang. They were all sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Wednesday 1 October 2014, for further details see HMRC news release NW18/14 http://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/hm-revenue-customs-hmrc/pressreleases/flight-attendant-jailed-for-smuggling-cigs-1062804

4.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.

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

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