Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Haulier smuggled vodka in as water, court told

A haulier from Northern Ireland has been accused of a duty-dodging racket to smuggle millions of pounds worth of vodka into the UK hidden in fake consignments of Evian water and vinegar.

Portadown man Kieran Hughes (55) is facing 15 charges involving the importation of spirits worth nearly £2m across the English Channel.

Hughes, from Cohara Road, is standing trial at Maidstone Crown Court alongside seven lorry drivers caught with consignments of alcohol at Dover Eastern Docks in 2011 and 2012.

Drivers Samuel White (32), of Draperstown, and William Canning (43), from Ballykelly, were caught allegedly trying to smuggle vodka into the UK.

Kevin Dent, prosecuting, said Hughes set up three dummy companies to mask his illegal import racket.

Each time Customs officials stopped vehicles at Dover they found fake manifests to hide the scam.

Hughes' 'cut and paste' documents claimed the sealed trucks carried items such as bottled water, vinegar or Chinese food.

Mr Dent said: "There are huge profits to be made from smuggling alcohol. Some of the lorry loads were worth over £100,000 each.

"The drivers needed cover stories to hide the fact they were carrying alcohol. It is clear it was being organised from one source. It appeared it was being organised by Kieran Hughes who owned a transport company based in Armagh."

When Customs checked manifest documents following the seizures, they found many of them were the same.

When White was arrested he had documents claiming he was taking Chinese food to Top Mark Cash and Carry in Belfast.

"The documents were fictitious but Top Mark had a delivery using Hughes' firm three months previously," Mr Dent said.

Each time the method was the same. Drivers would pick up a vehicle at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, and drive to Calais in France where they would pick up a sealed load.

One co-accused, Scottish driver Wiliam Frew, told police he had driven five loads through Dover before he was caught by Border Agency officers.

The case continues.

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