Belfast Telegraph

The long arm of HM Revenue and Customs

Even on the streets of dusty Kandahar, the eyes of the HMRC might be on you

By Adrian Huston

People tend to think of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in two main areas. The administration of tax and the manning of UK ports and airports — on the lookout for drugs or other smuggling.

An interesting case came to light recently where someone’s misbehaviour detected in Afghanistan resulted in him being arrested by HMRC and prosecuted in the UK.

It is of particular relevance to the many Northern Ireland people doing business abroad, especially in places like Afghanistan and Columbia.

The case involved a Scottish electrician called Michael Doig who was working in Afghanistan for an American defence contractor.

He had worked out there for two years and was coming back home for a routine break. He was tempted to bring home some local delicacies — in the form of a kilogram of heroin — itself a popular export of the region.

Given he was flying out of Kandahar airfield in a military flight you might have thought searching would be minimal.

But he was stopped and searched by RAF Police before he got on the plane. They found close to 1kg of heroin in his baggage — worth £46,500.

Military Police escorted Doig back to RAF Brize Norton and once in the UK he was arrested by investigators from HMRC.

He subsquently pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle heroin and was jailed for five years.

The lessons from this sorry tale are:

lWe may never know whether it was luck or intelligence which led to this discovery.

lHMRC has eyes all over the place and co-operates with all sorts of agencies worldwide.

lBe careful what you decide to bring into the UK.

lTravelling in a military aircraft does not mean you will be subject to less scrutiny.

Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co – or 028 9080 6080

Belfast Telegraph