A CRIMINAL gang who set up a factory potentially capable of making up to 625 million counterfeit cigarettes and five million pouches of fake hand rolling tobacco a year has been jailed.
The plot, worth over £131 million per annum in lost revenue, was foiled when HM Revenue & Customs criminal investigators swooped and closed down the fully equipped cigarette factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, before it went into production.
During the raid in September 2009 they discovered that the gang were also planning to expand into making counterfeit alcohol.
In two co-ordinated searches at the gang’s other industrial units in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, and a barn at Top Farm, Laxton, Newark, Nottinghamshire, the investigators also seized cigarette manufacturing equipment destined for another criminal gang, capable of producing a potential 750 million cigarettes a year with an annual revenue loss of over £141 million, from Blidworth, and a five-tonne tobacco cutting machine to process the tobacco to make counterfeit hand rolling tobacco and cigarettes, from Laxton.
Gary Lampon, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale. The gang planned to launch a UK production facility, manufacturing counterfeit tobacco goods by the million. We had previously seized 1.25 million illegal cigarettes from them, so in the belief that they could make a bigger profit, they decided to make their own. This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”
His Honour Judge Jonathon Teare said “The potential loss of revenue was substantial; the project was grand with a series of plans set to evade duty and make millions”. On sentencing Robinson, he said, “your expectations were high and if you had succeeded you would be a millionaire by now and the public purse very much depleted”.
Gang members traded in smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes illegally manufactured in the UK. HMRC had already seized 1.25 million cigarettes from the gang in two separate operations. The first in June 2009, when one million cigarettes were seized in Rainworth, Nottingham, and the second in August 2009 when 250,000 cigarettes were seized at the Sherwood Business Park, Nottingham.
The gang had conspired to escalate from trading in these illegal cigarettes and tobacco, to manufacturing their own counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco on an industrial scale. Unbeknown to the gang, HMRC were aware of their elaborate plans and were secretly tracking their every move, swooping once they were confident they had enough evidence to bring the defendants to justice, but before the manufacturing plants went into production.
At the Chesterfield plant officers also seized packaging for 43 million cigarettes, cigarette paper and cigarette tipping paper, foil cellophane, glue and cardboard inners for packets of 20 cigarettes.
In Blidworth, 5,000 litres of 96 per cent proof alcohol was seized in a lorry just yards before it was delivered to the gang’s warehouse. This was enough to produce 25,000 bottles of spirits such as vodka or whisky, with a revenue loss of £109,000.
Forensic analysis showed the liquid was denatured alcohol unfit for human consumption.
At the barn in Laxton officers also seized 100,000 counterfeit Golden Virginia pouches.