The four men from Essex were caught after HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers used covert surveillance to watch a delivery of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco to a warehouse at Billet Works in Walthamstow.
Paul Barton, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, said:
“Our officers have uncovered a sophisticated and highly organised fraud where the smugglers used knowledge gained from a legitimate furniture business to evade the payment of duty. The effect of this type of criminal activity on legitimate retailers can be devastating. Millions of pounds, which should be available for public services, are lost each year.
“I would urge anyone with information about this type of crime to call the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email: email@example.com."
An investigation by HMRC officers followed, which resulted in a series of early morning raids across Essex when Michael Lowe, Nigel Sheekey, Terry Turner and Paul Huzzey were arrested and later charged with smuggling offences.
Michael Lowe described as the principle organiser was central to the illegal operation using contacts made in Indonesia. He set up a series of importations declared as furniture or handicrafts, with knowledge gained from working in the trade. The importations concealed quantities of illicit tobacco and cigarettes.
HMRC investigators uncovered a total of 22 importations between July 2007 and April 2009, 20 of which originated in Indonesia. Lowe was a frequent visitor to Indonesia using family names and addresses in the UK to set up the importations. Paperwork found at Lowe’s home resulted in the seizure of nearly 1.7 tons of hand rolling tobacco and nearly 700,000 cigarettes in a container in Indonesia. Sheekey adopted a false name and utilised his mother’s home address, to facilitate the importation and collection of one of the consignments. Turner was involved in organising a load and the delivery of another. Huzzey supplied storage facilities to the organisation.
Notes for editors
Details of the four who were sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court today (1 October 2012):
1. Michael Lowe (22/05/1961) of 11 Carlina Gardens, Woodford Green, who pleaded guilty to 7 illegal importations at the start of the trial, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison.
2. Nigel Sheekey (08/03/1962) of 99 Mawney Road, Romford, received four years in jail after being convicted at trial of his involvement in 4 importations.
3. Terry Turner (20/07/1961) of 64 South End Road, Rainham will serve 22 months after being convicted at trial of his involvement in 2 importations.
4. Paul Huzzey (27/02/1956) of 67 Tycehurst Hill, Loughton who pleaded guilty in 2011 to 2 importations was jailed for 18 months for his part in the racket.
5. A fifth man, Anthony Wheeler (01/07/1963) who pleaded guilty in September 2011 will be sentenced in November 2012. He has previously lived at addresses in Clacton, Enfield and Layham (near Hadleigh) and is now living in March, Cambridgeshire.
6. All five men were convicted of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty, contrary to section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 79. The nine week trial, which took place at Ipswich Crown court, finished on 29 June 2012.
7. A sixth defendant was acquitted.
8. Photos are available from the press officer below.
9. Images are available on HMRC’s flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk
10. 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.