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‘Most Wanted’ tobacco smuggler caught on the Costa del Sol

Press release   •   May 16, 2014 10:58 BST

A member of the one of the UK’s biggest ever tobacco smuggling gangs, who fled to Spain during his trial to avoid prison, has been caught and returned to the UK to begin his sentence.

John Sabin, 58, from Doncaster, was part of an eight-strong gang that transported millions of smuggled cigarettes across the north of England to warehouses, storage yards and farms with the intention of selling them at a profit and evading duty.

He escaped justice after being convicted for his part in a £26 million tobacco smuggling operation which involved more than 150 million illicit cigarettes and tonnes of low-quality tobacco. He was subsequently sentenced in his absence to two years and nine months in prison.

Sabin was added to HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) list of Most Wanted tax fugitives. After a public appeal for help by HMRC last month, he was tracked down by Spanish police to Malaga, on the Costa del Sol, where he was working in a bar.

HMRC’s specialist Fugitive Unit worked with the Spanish police and Interpol to return Sabin to the UK. He appeared at Derby Crown Court yesterday (15 May 2014) and was sentenced to an additional three months in prison for absconding and has now begun his time in jail.

Jennie Granger, Director General Enforcement and Compliance, HMRC, said:

“John Sabin thought he could flee the country to avoid paying for his crimes. He was wrong. We have tracked him down and, in co-operation with the Spanish authorities, have brought him before the UK courts so justice can be served.

“Tobacco smuggling of this size is organised crime on a global scale. It supports criminality within our communities and denies our country millions of pounds of vital revenue every year to fund public services.

“'We really appreciate the role that the public and other law enforcement agencies play in helping us to bring people like Sabin to justice and would encourage anyone with information about any of HMRC’s Most Wanted tax fugitives to come forward.”

As well as his jail term, Sabin also faces having to repay the illegal proceeds of his criminal activity. Four other members of his gang have already been ordered to pay back over £480,000.

Notes to editors

  1. Images of John Sabin are available on Flickr at
  2. Details of the defendant sentenced yesterday, 15 May 2014, at Derby Crown Court: John Sabin, 29/02/1956, from York Road, Scawthorpe, Doncaster. Sabin was responsible for couriering money on behalf of the gang. He was found guilty in November 2012 and was sentenced in his absence to two years and nine months in jail as he absconded before sentence. A European Arrest Warrant was issued on 28 April 2014 and he was extradited back to the UK on 14 May 2014. Sabin appeared at Derby Crown Court yesterday, 15 May 2015 where he was given an additional three months in prison for absconding, to be served consecutively.
  3. Details of all the members of the gang who were sentenced between November 2012 and June 2013, and the specifics of the investigation, can be found at
  4. Four members of the gang were ordered to repay over £480,833 in October 2013 and January 2014. More details are at and
  5. A public appeal for information on Sabin’s whereabouts was issued in April 2014. More details can be found at
  6. Anyone with information about people dealing in illicit cigarettes or tobacco should contact the HMRC Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.
  7. With Sabin’s capture, HMRC has today added a new tax fugitive to its Most Wanted list. Michael Clancy evaded over £300,000 duty on 2.2 million cigarettes but failed to appear at court in December 2005. The full list of HMRC’s Most Wanted tax fugitives can be found on Flickr at
  8. 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.