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£15m fraud gang jailed

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£15m fraud gang jailed

A criminal gang caught red-handed with bundles of ‘dirty’ cash, part of £15 million made from selling alcohol illegally in the UK, has been jailed for a total of 19 years.

Investigators from HM Revenue and Customs found that the criminals, from Kent, West Sussex and Essex, laundered large amounts of cash through two businesses that were allegedly selling alcohol outside the UK. In fact the businesses were run to launder the illicit cash, made from selling alcohol illegally in the UK without paying excise duty and VAT.

Louca Christos Louca, 51, from Kent, company director of Ramsgate based Eurolink Trading Ltd, was arrested on 24 October 2011 after investigators discovered almost £100,000 cash inside his car.

The following day Gary Bissenden, 50, fromKent and Lucy Buckingham, 30, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, were arrested in an East Grinstead car park. Bissenden was carrying a holdall containing nearly £160,000 in cash. A further £17,750 and 11,000 euros were found at his then home in Herne Bay, Kent.

Lucy Buckingham faked documents to facilitate the alcohol fraud and money laundering. She worked for Saffire Trading Ltd of East Grinstead - a company run by Steve Randall, 44, from Romford, Essex.

Analysis of business records show Eurolink Trading Ltd and Saffire Trading Ltd were run to launder the proceeds of illicit alcohol sold in the UK. From 1 November 2010 to 3 February 2012, £15 million in proceeds from these illegal sales was transferred from their business accounts (Saffire Trading £1.6 million and Eurolink Trading £13.4 million) into their main supplier’s bank account. The supplier, York Wines Ltd of Southend on Sea, has since ceased trading.

HMRC investigators seized £19,190 cash, business records, phones and computers at Saffire Trading’s business premises. Documents had been faked to show trade taking place in France, but laptop evidence revealed the alcohol was being sold at outlets across the UK.

All four defendants were charged with proceeds of crime offences linked to alcohol fraud. They were found guilty after an eight-week trial and were jailed for a total of 19 years at Southwark Crown Court on Friday (22 April 2016).

His Honour Judge Robbins commended the HMRC officers involved in the investigation.

A Proceeds of Crime Order is in place.

Notes for editors

1. Defendants sentenced on 22 April 2016 at Southwark Crown Court:

  • Louca Christos Louca (17.09.64) of Park Avenue, Broadstairs, Kent, company director of Eurolink Trading Ltd, was jailed for seven years and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.
  • Steve Randall (21.02.72), of Glenton Close, Romford, Essex, company director of Saffire Trading Ltd (ceased trading), was jailed for six years and disqualified from being a company director for six years.
  • Gary Darren Bissenden (18.04.66) of Dence Park, Herne Bay, Kent, a forklift truck driver, was jailed for three years. He collected the proceeds of illicit alcohol sales in the UK and delivered the cash to Saffire Trading Ltd and Eurolink Trading Ltd.
  • Lucy Anne Buckingham (04.10.85) of Cranston Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, an employee of Saffire Trading Ltd at the time of the fraud. She faked documents to facilitate the alcohol fraud and money laundering. She was jailed for three years and disqualified from being a company director for five years.

2. The defendants were charged with concealing, disguising, converting or transferring criminal property, namely the cash proceeds of sales of alcoholic goods which had been illegally sold within the UK, without payment of duty or VAT, knowing or suspecting that such cash constituted or represented a person’s benefit from criminal conduct, contrary to section 327(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

3. A fifth defendant was found not guilty.

4. York Wines Ltd of Southend on Sea has ceased trading, and is not connected to any UK business of a similar name. The court heard that the owner of York Wines was also due to stand trial, but he died before the case went to court.

5. Alcohol can be stored in and moved between bonded stores in the EU, but as soon as the alcohol is released from the bond for sale, in this case to UK retailers, excise duty and VAT are due. Its illegal sale is known as alcohol diversion fraud.

6. Eurolink Trading Ltd and Saffire Trading Ltd both claimed to deal with inter-bond movements of alcohol in France.

7. Anyone with information about people involved in illegal alcohol sales should contact our hotline on 0800 59 5000 or report it online at: https://www.gov.uk/report-tobacco-or-alcohol-tax-evasion

8. Photographs of some of the cash seized are available on request or from HMRC’s Flickr channelwww.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

9. Follow HMRC on Twitter @HMRCgovuk

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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.

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