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11 arrests as suspected illicit tobacco factory dismantled

Press Release   •   Feb 17, 2017 16:46 GMT

Op Ostrich inside the illicit tobacco factory

Eleven men have been arrested as a suspected illicit tobacco factory was dismantled in North West England by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The arrests were made in 17 simultaneous searches across North West England and Scotland yesterday. HMRC found residential premises, farms, self-storage sites and a disused public house were being used to store and process tobacco, in a suspected £12 million tobacco tax evasion plot.

During the operation tobacco was found in various stages of processing. HMRC seized approximately 20 tonnes of tobacco, more than £50,000 in cash, counterfeit packaging, shredding, cutting and drying machinery plus other tobacco making paraphernalia. HMRC used tobacco detection dogs in the searches and were assisted by local police and Home Office Immigration Services.

Tony Capon, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.4 billion a year in lost taxes. In addition to significant revenue loss, illicit tobacco products damage legitimate businesses and the trade is unregulated making cheaper tobacco more readily available to the young and vulnerable. We are determined to disrupt the manufacture and distribution of illicit tobacco across the UK and will continue to work with other enforcement agencies to stamp it out.

“Anyone with information about the smuggling or illegal sale of tobacco and cigarettes can report it by calling our 24-hour Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

Those arrested have been interviewed and bailed until August and investigations into the seizures are ongoing.

Notes for editors

1. Details of the arrests:

-Eight men in NW England arrested

-three men in Scotland arrested

-14 premises in NW England searched

-three premises in Scotland searched

2. Since 2000, the illicit market in cigarettes has more than halved. In the last two years, over 3.5 billion cigarettes and almost 600 tonnes of illicit hand-rolling tobacco have been seized and 848 criminals involved have been prosecuted.

3. HMRC can also levy civil penalties on anyone handling, using or supplying non-duty paid tobacco products. Penalties introduced in April 2010 range from 10 to 100 per cent of the possible lost revenue.

4. All businesses and individuals who carry out any activity involving raw tobacco will need to have an approval for the Raw Tobacco Approval Scheme by 1 April 2017, unless an exemption applies or be at risk of having their raw tobacco seized and a penalty issued. HMRC will accept applications to the scheme from 1 January 2017.

5. Anyone with information regarding tobacco fraud is encouraged to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or report it online at

6. HMRC’s Flickr channel:

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.