Seven cigarette smugglers jailed
Members of a criminal gang who smuggled millions of cigarettes into the UK, dodging £1.5 million in customs duty, have been jailed.
The seven men were caught after an investigation by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) led to raids at nine locations in the UK in 2009. Officers seized nine million cigarettes during the raids.
At Birmingham Crown Court, six of the men admitted conspiracy to evade excise duty, while two admitted money laundering.
The UK side of the gang's operations were led by Miqdad Salih, aged 38, of Purefoy Road, Coventry. He and Goran Ahmed, also aged 38, of Farren Road, Coventry and Khalid Hareem, aged 29, of Warmwell Close, Coventry, were then distributing the cigarettes to retailers across the Midlands.
Meanwhile, the cigarettes were being smuggled into the country from Poland, Latvia and Romania by Milian Matei, aged 38, of Bowthorpe Close, Northampton, Dmitrijs Smirnovs, aged 26, of Benton Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and Aleksandrs Maculevics, aged 26, of Archer Road, Stevenage.
The seventh member of the gang Ezzat Hamasleh, of Beaks Farm Gardens, in Edgbaston, Birmingham, laundered the group's criminal proceeds.
For evading duty, Ahmed was jailed for two years and four months; Hareem was given two years and four months, while Matei, Maculevics, and Smirnovs all received two-year sentences.
Salih, who also admitted evading the payment of duty, further pleaded guilty to money laundering and was handed a jail term of five years and four months. He used a shop he owned in King William Street in Coventry to sell on the smuggled goods, and had a key role in the onward distribution of 6.5 million cigarettes. Customs officers also confiscated £75,000 in illegal proceeds from him.
Hamasleh admitted money laundering and was jailed for 10 months.
John Pointing, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, said: "They were out to line their own pockets in the belief they wouldn't get caught. However, they are now paying the price for their criminal activity with the loss of their freedom."