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Fruit and veg cigarette smuggling ring squashed

News   •   Jul 21, 2015 16:57 BST

A criminal gang from London, who used their freight company as a cover to smuggle more than 14 million cigarettes inside boxes of fruit and vegetables, have been jailed for a total of more than 15 years.

The three men were arrested in May 2012 after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) discovered that they had been shipping illicit cigarettes from Dubai through East Africa into the UK, evading over £3 million in duty.

John Cooper, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

“This was a major investigation into the exploits of three criminals attempting to flood the UK with illicit cigarettes. These men abused their position of trust as approved importers to steal millions of pounds from law-abiding taxpayers – money which should have gone into funding the UK’s vital public services. They thought their set-up was undetectable, but they were wrong and our investigation has led to them being brought to account.”

HMRC investigators uncovered the smuggling ring after working closely with UK Border Force and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (now the National Crime Agency).

The group was led by Feroz Batliwala, who orchestrated the purchase, shipping and delivery of the cigarettes from his home in Dubai to East Africa. The cigarettes were then concealed inside boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables and flown into the UK.

Krishan Solanki accepted the goods into the UK and managed the warehouse operation. Deliveries were made to a warehouse in Uxbridge where the smuggled cigarettes were then removed. The fruit and vegetables were then cleared for onwards delivery.

Meanwhile, Ashiquir Ali repackaged the cigarettes into laundry bags which were collected by ’customers’ and delivered to addresses in the Midlands.

Confiscation proceedings to reclaim the criminal profits are under way.

Notes to editors

1. Reporting restrictions have been in place but have been lifted today (21 July 2015).

2.Photographs of the defendants and goods seized are available on request or from HMRC’s Flickr channel: www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

3.Details of the defendant sentenced today (21 July 2015) at Isleworth Crown Court:

- Feroz Abubakar Batliwala (DOB 19.10.86) an Indian national with a UK address of Ringway, Southall, London UB2, and a resident of Dubai, pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to eight years, six months in prison and banned from being a company director for 12 years.

4.Details of the defendants sentenced on 23 January 2015 at Isleworth Crown Court:

- Krishan Solanki (DOB 01.05.66), also known as Krishan Kumar, an Indian national of Raleigh Road, Southall, London UB2, was found guilty of conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from being a company director for ten years.

-Ashiquir Rohman Ali (DOB 19.08.63) of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for 24 months, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.

5.Batliwala and Solanki, who were directors of London freight company, Scanwell Freight Services Ltd based in Feltham ran an Enhanced Remote Transit Shed (ERTS), an approved freight forwarding company dealing in perishables. This approved status was removed on 25 May 2012.

6.An ERTS facility is an approved place situated outside the area of an airport or port where non-EU Community goods are held in temporary storage until they are assigned a customs approved treatment or use.

7.Follow us on Twitter @hmrcpressoffice