Press release -
HM Revenue & Customs: Heathrow cargo cigarette smuggler jailed
A cargo company operations manager, who used his position of authority to illegally import 7.2 million cigarettes into the UK through Heathrow Airport in air freight shipments, was jailed for five years today. The potential revenue loss on the smuggled cigarettes is estimated at £1.3 million.
Ahmed Zibara, (41), a British national born in the Lebanon, was found guilty and sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court on Friday 28 May for fraudulently evading duty on smuggled cigarettes.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) began a detailed criminal investigation following the discovery of cigarettes by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers on 11 and 12 October 2008. Officers examined three separate shipments that weekend and found 234,000 cigarettes, 484,000 cigarettes and 500,000 cigarettes respectively.
Investigators identified a further 17 consignments arriving between 5 September 2008 and 9 October 2008 that fitted the same importation profile. All were linked to Zibara who falsified import documentation and his employer’s records for each shipment. All the illegal consignments arrived at Heathrow on flights from Dubai or Bombay and, according to the false paperwork, were supposedly for onward transit out of the UK. Instead the cigarettes were collected by Zibara for sale in the UK.
Upon sentencing His Honour Judge Guggenheim QC said:
"This was a fairly sophisticated operation and Zibara's role was a vital one…In his role as operations manager of a freight forwarders he was able to organise and prepare false paperwork, he was also able to arrange for cigarettes to be brought to the warehouse and the subsequent off-loading and loading into white vans. This is an extremely lucrative and illegal operation in which £1.3 million in duty was evaded. The profits made would have been substantial.
"The most significant aggravating feature was that he breached a position of trust having worked for 19 years with the company and was trusted by his colleagues who did what he asked them to do.”
CCTV footage, showing Zibara breaching Customs’ clearance procedures and his employer’s guidelines by removing the contraband from freight transit sheds without the relevant checks or documentation, was shown to the jury.
John Cooper, HMRC Assistant Director Criminal Investigation, said:
“Zibara abused his position as a cargo company’s operations manager to smuggle cigarettes into Heathrow. By evading tobacco duty, he not only deprived the UK of public funds, but also undercut legitimate retailers. HMRC will continue to work closely with UKBA officers at the frontier to disrupt criminal operations wherever possible. Anyone with information about cigarette smuggling should contact the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
Confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act is being sought.
Notes for editors
1. A (low resolution) photograph of Zibara is available.
2. Ahmed ZIBARA, (DOB 04.02.69) a cargo company operations manager (since suspended), of 12 Fifth Avenue, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 2ER.
3. Zibara was charged at Heathrow Northside Police Station on 12 October 2009. He pleaded ‘not guilty’ on 1 December 2009 at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court. His trial began on 10 May 2010 at Isleworth Crown Court.
4. The jury returned a unanimous verdict. Zibara was found guilty of the following offences:
- Between 5 September 2008 and 9 October 2008 Ahmed Zibara was in relation to a quantity of excise goods, namely approximately 6,000,000 cigarettes knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of the duty chargeable thereon. Contrary to S170 (2) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
- Between 11 and 12 October 2008 Ahmed Zibara was in relation to a quantity of excise goods, namely 1,200,000 cigarettes knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of the duty chargeable thereon. Contrary to S170 (2) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
5. The cigarettes have been shredded and burned at a power station to fuel the national grid.
6. Members of the public with information about illegal smuggling activities can contact the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email email@example.com
Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office
Press enquiries only please contact:
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department
- ahmed zibara
- uk border agency