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‘Window tapping’ tobacco smuggling duo jailed

Press release   •   Jul 17, 2018 16:26 BST

Two men caught with an illegal shipment of tobacco at a Kent industrial estate have been jailed for a total of five-and-a-half years after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Bob Lee, 43, from Maidstone, and Benjamin Brazil, 29, from Sittingbourne, were arrested when they were caught by HMRC officers unloading 1.3 tonnes of Turner Blue tobacco off a lorry at a Rochester industrial estate on 3 October 2016. The tobacco, which had been smuggled into the UK, was seized by officers and the duty evaded was £262,000.

Lorry driver and ex-Special Forces soldier Steven Skender, 43, from Croatia, also arrested at the site, told officers he was taking a break at a service station on the Luxembourg-German border on 1 October 2016, when he was approached by a man who offered him £1,000 to transport ten boxes of tobacco to the UK. This is known as ‘window tapping’.

Brett Wilkinson, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“These men thought they could make money smuggling and selling illicit tobacco while stealing from UK taxpayers. Tobacco fraudsters are costing the UK around £2.5 billion a year in lost taxes and undermining legitimate, local businesses.

“We are disrupting the distribution of illicit tobacco across the UK and I urge anyone who is offered cheap products to report it online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Skender said ‘window tapping’, where drivers are asked to transport illegal goods to the UK in return for cash, is a frequent occurrence and that he had been approached on numerous occasions to do it, but had declined. He said he agreed to do it this time as he was offered £1,000, which would help pay for car repairs.

Skender had previously pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of duty and is due to be sentenced at a later date.

Bob Lee and Benjamin Brazil denied a charge of fraudulent evasion of duty but were found guilty after a two week trial at Maidstone Crown Court. Bob Lee was jailed for three-and-a-half years and Benjamin Brazil was jailed for two years. They were sentenced at the same court on 16 July 2018.

Notes for Editors

  • 1.The two men were sentenced on 16 July 2018 at Maidstone Crown Court:
  • a) Bob Lee, of Fairway, Church Hill, Boughton Monchelsea, Maidstone, (DOB 21/09/1974), was sentenced to three and a half years in jail.
  • b) Benjamin Brazil, of Glenbrook Grove, Sittingbourne, (DOB 17/04/1989) was sentenced to two years.
  • 2.Steven Skender, of Vukovar, Croatia, (DOB 02/04/1975), had previously pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of duty and is due to be sentenced at a later date.
  • 3.All of the defendants were each charged with:
  • a) Being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of any duty chargeable on goods contrary to section 170(2) and (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
  • b) The value of the duty evaded on the tobacco was £262,482.50
  • 4.Images of Bob Lee and Benjamin Brazil are attached.
  • 5.Follow HMRC’s press office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice.

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

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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.