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Lancashire tobacco network jailed for £16m tax fraud

Press Release   •   May 17, 2016 14:04 BST

Four Lancashire men, who attempted to steal over £16 million in tax by selling illegal cigarettes and tobacco, were jailed yesterday at Preston Crown Court.

The men were all linked to the crime after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) identified their involvement through sales records in two ‘dealer’ books, kept by Iqbal Haji, 50, at his Blackburn home.

Haji’s home was searched by HMRC officers in September 2014 after five months of investigation into his suspicious activities. The officers seized illegal cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco and criminal cash. They also discovered the meticulous records he kept of his illegal trade, dating back to 2010.

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Our investigation proved that Haji was at the centre of a criminal network evading millions in tax ‎to line his own pockets. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders. The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated."

The two books revealed three of his main customers, Keith Allen, 66, James Willmott, 54, both of Accrington and Wayne Brown, 51, of Darwen. All three were jailed alongside Haji yesterday.

The four men were jailed for a total of 12 and a half years and now face confiscation proceedings to recover their criminal profits and the stolen tax.

Anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco can contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 to report it.

Notes to Editors

1.Details of the fraudsters sentenced yesterday:

  • Iqbal Haji, DOB 28/10/65, a postmaster of Whalley Street, Blackburn, Lancashire, was sentenced to six years jail for Excise Duty evasion and two years jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 9 November 2015 at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found a total of 15 kilos of illegal Golden Virginia hand rolling tobacco (HRT) along with £101,124 in cash at his home. His two dealer books detailed illegal sales that evaded £16,160,885 in Excise Duty and VAT over four years.
  • Keith Allen, DOB 10/07/49, retired, of West View, Oswaldtwistle, Accrington, Lancashire, was sentenced to four years jail for Excise Duty evasion and 18 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He was found guilty of five counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 10 March 2016 following a four day trial at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 7.85 kilos of illegal HRT along with £39,670 in cash plus €610 at his home. From 1 May 2014, Allen made 33 visits to Haji buying 1,549.5 kilos of HRT and 341,600 cigarettes, evading £359,025 in Excise Duty and VAT.
  • James Willmott, DOB 14/07/61, unemployed, of Wellfield, Clayton le Moors, Accrington, Lancashire, was sentenced to 16 months jail for Excise Duty evasion and 16 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 9 November 2015 at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 7.5 kilos of illegal Amber Leaf HRT, 320 smuggled cigarettes and £3,414 in cash at his home. From 1 May 2014, Willmott made 17 visits to Haji buying 745.5 kilos of HRT and 40,000 cigarettes, evading of £143,830 in Excise Duty and VAT.
  • Wayne Russell Brown, DOB 03/08/64, a self-employed club owner, of Springvale Garden Village, Darwen, Lancashire, was sentenced to 13 months jail for Excise Duty evasion and 13 months jail for money laundering, to run concurrently, on 16 May 2016. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to contravene section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 on 9 November 2015 at Preston Crown Court. HMRC officers found 200 President, 4,000 Italian brand, and 821 other illegal cigarettes and 13 kilos of illegal HRT at his home. From 1 May 2014, Brown made 19 visits to Haji buying 1,227.35 kilos of HRT and 100,000 cigarettes, evading £64,272 in Excise Duty and VAT.

2.All four were charged with possessing criminal property (money laundering) contrary to section 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

3.The two dealer books found at Haji’s home address contained sales of illegal tobacco and cigarettes dating back to 2010. Each book contained the name of customers, quantities, price and profit from each transaction. The first dealer book from the 1 May 2014 showed Haji had sold 5,915.35 kilos of illegal HRT and 7,321,400 illegal cigarettes, worth over £2,769,306 in evaded UK Excise Duty and VAT. The second dealer book, dated from 2010, listed sales of 32,794.80 kilos of illegal HRT and 37,463,420 illegal cigarettes. The second book sales amounted to over £13,391,578 in evaded UK Excise Duty and VAT. In total, over the four years Haji was responsible for the onward sale of 38,710.15 kilos of HRT and 44,784,820 cigarettes. The total stolen tax amounted to £16,160,885.

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5.HMRC's Flickr channel: www.flickr.com/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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