Press release -
Clean sweep as counterfeit tobacco gang jailed
A gang of four from Southampton, who mixed floor sweepings into their counterfeit tobacco, have been jailed for a total of 11 years and three months after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
HMRC investigators, working with officers from Sussex Police and the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, raided an illegal tobacco factory in John Street, Southampton, in April 2014 and seized around three tonnes of tobacco.
Tian Yang arrived as HMRC officers searched the rented three-storey town house and was arrested nearby as he attempted to get away. Yang, along with Shu Lan Lin, believed to be his partner, smuggled the raw tobacco into the UK and arranged the distribution of the counterfeit tobacco. Lin was later arrested at her home in Latimer Street, Southampton, where officers found tobacco processing equipment and £1,715 in cash.
Hua Wang and Yun Wang, who worked at the John Street house processing the tobacco, were arrested at the premises where they were also living.
At the time of their arrest both Yang and Lin were on the run, after skipping bail in connection with previous tobacco smuggling offences in 2011, when 1.1 tonnes of tobacco was smuggled into the UK hidden inside insulation boards.
John Cooper, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:
“These criminals were producing counterfeit tobacco in totally unhygienic conditions, for sale to unsuspecting smokers. They were selling a cheap product, undercutting legitimate retailers who cannot compete with these unregulated sales.
“Tobacco fraud costs the UK economy around £2 billion each year. We urge anyone with information about the illegal importation, production or sale of tobacco to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
HMRC officers also discovered fake duty stamps, and 380 litres of vinegar and lime cordial, used to moisten the tobacco, in the John Street house. They also discovered a cement mixer which had been used to mix the product.
CCTV on the premises, used to monitor the workers, recorded tobacco being scraped off the floor and from the soles of their shoes, before being packaged for sale.
Around three tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco was seized from the property, enough to fill 60,000 standard 50g tobacco pouches worth an estimated £612,000 in unpaid excise duty and VAT. The number of empty tobacco pouches found were enough to package five tonnes of tobacco. Officers also seized £13,730 in cash from the property.
All four were charged the following day with the fraudulent evasion of excise duty, and remanded in custody. Hua Wang and his wife Yun Wang pleaded guilty at a hearing in July 2014 at Southampton Crown Court. Tian Yang and Shu Lan Lin pleaded not guilty but were later convicted by a jury of evading tobacco duty, following a three week trial at Southampton Crown Court.
Upon sentencing on 30 October 2014 His Honour Judge Henry, said:
“I am in no doubt that I am dealing with a large scale professional organisation, which has over a number of years evaded a large amount of duty and VAT on excise goods. No doubt with substantial profits going to those running the organisation.”
Notes for editors
1. Tian Yang (m) (DOB 05/05/75) of Oxford Mews, Latimer Street, Southampton, Hampshire, was charged on 9 April 2014 with four counts of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of excise duty, contrary to Section 170(2)(a) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. He was found guilty on 23 October 2014 and sentenced to four years and six months in jail on 30 October 2014. He was sentenced on four counts to run concurrently. (Count 1 = four months, count two = two years, count three = nine months, count four = four years and six months.)
2. Shu Lan Lin (f) (DOB 04/12/72), also known to have used the names ‘Lin Da’, ‘Da Lin’, ‘Linda Lin’, ‘Ma Na’ and ‘Hui Xue’, of Oxford Mews, Latimer Street, Southampton, Hampshire, was charged on 9 April 2014 on three counts of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of excise duty, contrary to Section 170(2)(a) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. She was found guilty of two counts (April 2014 three tonne Southampton tobacco factory seizure and July 2011 1.1 tonne Southampton tobacco importation) on 23 October 2014 and sentenced to three years and nine months in jail on 30 October 2014. The judge acknowledged that he had reduced her sentence because she was mother to a very young baby born in prison. Her sentences will run concurrently. ( Count two = two years, count four = three years and nine months)
3. Hua Wang (m) (DOB 04/08/75) and Yun Wang (f) (DOB 06/06/83), of John Street, Southampton, Hampshire, were both charged on 9 April 2014 on one count of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of excise duty, contrary to Section 170(2)(a) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. They pleaded guilty in July 2014. They were each sentenced to 18 months in jail on 30 October 2014.
4. Tian Yang and Shu Lan Lin were both wanted by HMRC for a smuggling attempt in July 2011, when 1.1 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco was smuggled from China into Southampton, concealed within a shipment of insulation boards for the building trade. HMRC commenced an investigation after UK Border Agency (now Border Force) officers discovered insulation had been cut out and replaced with tobacco. £199,000 in excise duty and VAT was evaded. Yang and Lin both absconded while on bail, but a co-defendant, Wuyang Wan, received a 17 month jail term for that importation.
5. Yang was also wanted in connection with two postal importations of tobacco. The first from June 2011 in Worthing, West Sussex, when a police officer spotted Yang unloading boxes into a white A Class Mercedes. Yang ran off when the officer approached. 40kgs of loose tobacco, evading around £7,400 in excise duty and VAT, was later found in three boxes in the car.
6. In July 2011 90kgs of tobacco, in two parcels labelled as ‘chess sets’, was intercepted at Heathrow Airport by UK Border Agency officers. The parcels were addressed to ‘Miss Ling’, but evidence was discovered linking them to Tian Yang.
7. According to immigration records Yang and Lin are absconders and the Wangs suspected illegal entrants. Deportation proceedings will take place at a later stage.
8. Photographs are available from the “press and media” pages at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs.
9. Follow HMRC’s Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice
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.