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A West London man has been sentenced today for his part in a plot to illegally import nearly six tonnes of shisha tobacco into the UK and evade around £500,000 in tax.
Adel Al-Khazraji, from Wembley, was part of a London gang whose activities led to the largest ever investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into smuggled shisha. Seven other gang members were sentenced last month.
John Pointing, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, said:
“Our investigation has significantly cut the amount of illicit tobacco on London’s streets. The sentencing of the final gang member shows we won’t tolerate criminal networks stealing public money and will ensure justice is served.
“We encourage anyone with information about tobacco smuggling and tax evasion to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
The HMRC investigation began in April 2012, after Border Force officers at Tilbury docks discovered 2.2 tonnes of shisha in a consignment from Dubai, falsely labelled as Arabian incense.
The consignment was destined for Sahar Lounge Ltd, which operates a shisha café in Kilburn, London. Further enquiries revealed that there had been four previous importations from the United Arab Emirates in the previous six months, each described as Arabian incense. The shipments weighed 3.6 tonnes and arrived via Heathrow Airport and the Port of Felixstowe.
The directors of Sahar Lounge Ltd, brothers Mahfouz and Sayyeduz Chowdhury, who were sentenced last month, were arrested and their mobile phones analysed for evidence. The phones contained photographs of the tobacco being repackaged, and hundreds of text messages to other people involved in the smuggling and distribution of the tobacco.
The texts revealed that Mahfouz Chowdhury had been paid more than £10,000 to buy shisha tobacco in Dubai. Phone records also showed that Adel Al-Khazraji had agreed to buy the bulk of the tobacco being smuggled into the UK. Another mobile revealed texts discussing a 300kg importation involving other members of the gang.
Notes for editors
1. Photographs of the defendants and the packaged shisha tobacco are available from HMRCs Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk or on request.
2. Details of the defendant sentenced today, 29 November 2013, at the Old Bailey:
3. Details of the defendant sentenced on 29 October 2013, at the Old Bailey:
Sunit Vekaria (DOB 14.07.86) of Clifton Road, Harrow, was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.
4. Details of the defendants sentenced on 14 October 2013, at the Old Bailey:
5. Follow HMRC on Twitter @HMRCgovuk
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.
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