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cigarettes through the post – ‘brazen and sustained attack on the UK taxpayer’

Smuggling gang from Crook, Durham and Washington, posted cigarettes through the post – ‘brazen and sustained attack on the UK taxpayer’ says customs chiefs

THE ringleaders of a tobacco smuggling gang, who hid illicit cigarettes in lighting units and laptop adapters in an attempt to smuggle them into North-East through the post, have been jailed for a total of 76 months.

Guo Shan Zhang, 34, of Donnini Place, Durham, and his accomplice Shan Jing Su, 31, of The Riggs, Durham, led a nine strong gang in smuggling non-duty paid tobacco products from China, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The pair arranged for parcels containing the hidden cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco to be sent to addresses across the region where they would be collected from their accomplices.

The other members were convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty:

Keith Peacock, 63, of Crawford Close, Durham, sentenced to 16 months, suspended for 24 months
Kwai Chan, 53, of Wood Vue, Durham, sentenced to 12 months, suspended for 24 months, and 200 hours unpaid work
Harry Marwick, 47, of Ripon Drive, Durham, sentenced to 10 months, suspended for 24 months, 200 hours unpaid work and 20 days rehabilitation
Min Gao, 34, of Boystones Court, Washington, sentenced to 6 months, suspended for 24 months, and 200 hours unpaid work
Trevor Walker, 59, of Elm Gardens, Durham, sentenced to 6 months, suspended for 18 months
Lewis Zalick, 22, of Derwent Avenue, Durham, sentenced to 14 weeks, suspended for 18 months, and 200 hours unpaid work
Joseph Dukes, 50, of Moorland Close, Sunnybrow, Crook, was jailed for 18 months for his involvement in the conspiracy and similar related offences.

All were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) uncovered the fraud after about 500 parcels containing more than 1.8million cigarettes and 100kg of hand rolling tobacco worth an excise duty loss of £472,452 were stopped as they entered the UK.

Denis Kerr, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: “This was a brazen and sustained attack on the UK taxpayer by a highly organised criminal gang. Zhang and Su thought they had come up with a clever way to beat the system – they were very wrong.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the taxpayer around £2 billion a year.

“We will not allow hardworking, honest retailers to be harmed by criminal gangs selling illegal goods and we are determined to ensure there is a level playing field.”

The packages were often mis-described as green tea, children’s toys and clothes. In some instances large quantities of cigarettes and tobacco were hidden in LED lighting units, which had been sealed shut, and single packets were even hidden inside laptop adaptors.

At an earlier hearing Catherine Dillon Lee, 70, and her husband Robert Lee, 72, of Hall Lane Estate, in Willington, were sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for two years after earlier pleading guilty to conspiracy to sell and distribute counterfeit cigarettes which posed a risk to public health.

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