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November 24th, 2011:

Former deputy mayor of Northampton jailed for part in cigarette smuggling ring ordered to pay £250,000

Published on Thursday 24 November 2011 15:40

A FORMER deputy mayor of Northampton, who was jailed for his part in an international cigarette-smuggling ring, must pay a £250,000 confiscation order, despite telling top judges his arrest was the “biggest shock of his life”.

Jozef Raca, who runs Raca International in The Mounts, was handed a four-year sentence after being convicted of conspiracy to evade duty on tobacco products at Worcester Crown Court in February 2005.

At the same court, in March 2007, the ex-Tory councillor for Abington was ordered to pay nearly £250,000 when a judge found millions of cigarettes had been hidden in a shipment of holy water, delivered to Raca’s Northampton-based haulage firm in 2001.

The 78-year-old businessman, of Abington Park Crescent, Northampton, who was once freed after a dramatic kidnapping in South Africa, continued to protest his innocence as he challenged his confiscation order at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, claiming he was an innocent dupe.

But his appeal was dismissed by top judges, who said he had been convicted of the offence and it was likely – on the balance of probabilities – that the holy water shipment had also contained cigarettes.

The court heard Raca was convicted of being involved in a plot which was masterminded by a man named Robert Cooper, from Dudley, West Midlands, who was jailed for six years after admitting his role. Customs officers seized more than 20 million cigarettes in Finland, Austria, Felixstowe and Dover.

The jury found Raca, who owns a European haulage firm, was involved in the plot despite no cigarettes being found at his business premises.

At his later confiscation hearing, a judge ruled the cigarettes had been smuggled into the UK with the holy water which was delivered to Raca’s firm.

Giving evidence before three senior judges, Raca continued to deny any guilt and insisted there were no cigarettes. He said: “When I was arrested and ended up in the court, I thought I was on a different planet. It was the biggest shock of my life.”

His lawyers argued the Crown Court judge who made the confiscation order was wrong to find cigarettes had been stashed with the holy water, suggesting it could have been a “trial run” by Cooper to see whether that method of smuggling was safe.

They also said there was no basis for the judge to set the confiscation order at almost £250,000, as no cigarettes had been found in the shipment.

Dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Hooper said it was likely cigarettes were in the container and the tax evaded would “certainly” have been £250,000.

Sitting with Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart and Judge Michael Mettyear QC, he added: “Of course, only Raca, along with Cooper, knows how many cigarettes were in the container.

But he denied any cigarettes being in the container, so we have to do our best to decide, on the balance of probabilities, what the quantity was. In our view it was such that the evaded duty and VAT would certainly amount to £250,000.”

WHO slams tobacco firms for ‘harassment’

Frank Jordans

November 24, 2011 – 7:19AM


The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to stand together against tobacco companies that are trying to “harass” them into softening their anti-smoking stance.

“Tobacco is the only industry that produces products to make huge profits and at the same time damage the health and kill their consumers,” WHO director-general Margaret Chan told officials at a public health meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.

“How can we as an international community allow big tobacco to harass countries?” she asked.

Chan said Australia, Uruguay, Norway and the United States were among the countries targeted by the tobacco industry over their measures to reduce smoking-related disease.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris launched legal action against Australia’s government on Monday, hours after parliament passed new legislation banning all logos from cigarette packages.

The legislation, which takes effect in December 2012, prohibits the use of logos and brand imagery on cigarette packages, instead requiring that brand names be printed in a small, uniform font on dull olive green packets.

Cigarette packs will also include larger health warnings with graphic pictures of the negative health effects of smoking.

A spokeswoman for Philip Morris said the company had been forced to act because the anti-tobacco measures were illegal.

“The laws that we have challenged in Uruguay and Norway have not reduced smoking but contravene numerous laws and treaties,” said Anne Edwards, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris International, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“As concerns Australia, the government has been unable to demonstrate that plain packaging will be effective at reducing smoking and has ignored the widespread concerns raised in Australia and internationally regarding the serious legal issues associated with plain packaging,” Edwards said in a statement.

“Legal action is not something that we take lightly but in these exceptional circumstances we are unfortunately left with no option,” she added.

In the United States, tobacco companies have sued the Food and Drug Administration over requirements to feature graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking, saying the rules infringe their right to free speech.

Chan, a Chinese citizen from Hong Kong, has been a strong advocate of tighter tobacco control since taking office in 2007. She is the only candidate to lead the WHO for another five years when her first term ends next year.

© 2011 AP