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Government to clamp down on tobacco smuggling

April 27, 2011

Tough new plans to tackle the illicit tobacco trade have been published by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Under the new strategy, supported by the UK Border Agency, the Government has provided additional investment for more officers to target organised criminals who smuggle tobacco. There will be increasing numbers of prosecutions, more illicit tobacco will be seized, and smugglers will face fresh hard-hitting financial sanctions. Minimum indicative levels for travellers bringing tobacco into the UK from the EU will also be reduced, aligning the UK with levels elsewhere in Europe.

Justine Greening, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Government believes that tobacco smuggling must be tackled head on. Tobacco fraud costs taxpayers more than £2bn a year, depriving the public of revenue to fund vital public services.”

“We have made an additional £917 million available to HMRC to tackle evasion, avoidance and criminal fraud across the tax system, and that includes illicit trading in tobacco. Those who think that tobacco smuggling is a quick, easy and risk free crime that will go unchallenged, are making a serious mistake.”

Key changes under the new strategy include:

increasing our criminal intelligence and investigation resources deployed on tobacco fraud by 20% to prosecute more of those involved in smuggling at all levels;

expanding our successful overseas network of fiscal crime liaison officers to increase seizures of illicit cigarettes targeted on the UK by 20%;

introducing new technology, intelligence and detection capability to improve our ability to respond more flexibly at the border and inland;

pursuing proceeds of crime and applying new powers of assessment and penalties, including recovering lost taxes and charging penalties up to 100% of the tax evaded, to deter offending and prevent re-offending;

reducing the minimum indicative levels for personal imports to 800 cigarettes and 1 kg hand-rolling tobacco in the autumn, bringing the UK into line with all other EU Member States. These levels are used as a guide for determining whether tobacco products imported from the EU are for personal use.

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