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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.”

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