HMRC tells us that on 31 May 2012 a 40 year-old man, who smuggled 200,000 cigarettes through Belfast Port where he worked as boatman, was sentenced to 200 hours community service.
Gerard Maxwell of North Hill Street in Belfast pleaded guilty last month to the evasion of over £47,000 of duty on the smuggled Russian cigarettes after an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
John Whiting, Assistant Director Criminal Investigation for HMRC said:
“Maxwell used his position as an employee at Belfast Docks to facilitate the smuggling and sale of illicit cigarettes. Tobacco smuggling is organised fraud on a global scale, encouraging and supporting criminality within our communities, and robbing taxpayers of millions each year in unpaid duty and VAT. Although you may think you are getting a bargain, you really have no idea what you are paying for.
“Anyone with information about the storage or sale of illegal tobacco in their area should contact the Customs’ hotline on 0800 59 5000 or www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs-hotline.”
So what actually happened to land Gerard Maxwell in Court?
In July 2010 Harbour Police observed suspicious activity next to a ship, the MV Baltiskiy, moored at Gotto Wharf in Belfast Port. They followed a transit van to a nearby warehouse and uncovered the cigarettes in the van, driven by Erikas Jakubauskas. Following the discovery the case was handed over to the HMRC Investigation unit.
Maxwell, who facilitated the exchange, initially claimed he had been out for a walk and had accidently left his mobile phone and keys in a van, whilst giving directions to the driver. He later pleaded guilty to arranging the supply of the cigarettes to Jakubauskas. A search of Maxwell’s house uncovered a small quantity of cigarettes, bearing the same batch markings as those in the van.
The cigarettes, along with £2,660 in cash, found in Maxwell’s Belfast home, were seized by HMRC. Jakabauskas also pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for 12 months.
Lessons from this story?
- Don’t get involved in smuggling
- Be careful where you leave your mobile!
Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co – www.huston.co.uk or 028 9080 6080.