Illegal tobacco trader avoids jail
A Ballymena shopkeeper who hid illegal tobacco under the floor boards of his store and kept thousands of pounds of cash in his shoes has been sentenced for excise fraud.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators linked David McCullough of Old Antrim Road to a number of illicit tobacco seizures made in the area over a two-year period.
At Antrim Crown Court yesterday, the 71-year-old was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for one year, and ordered to pay £183,099 within 42 days.
In December 2014 HMRC officers searched McCullough's shop in Linenhall Street and seized a quantity of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.
Later that month PSNI officers searching a garage in the Ballymena area found a large quantity of tobacco products, which were then seized by HMRC. Investigations revealed that McCullough was renting the garage for storage.
In July 2016, during a further search of McCullough's shop and home, more illicit tobacco products were found as well as £18,000 in cash - which included thousands of pounds hidden in his shoes.
In total 520,000 cigarettes and 75kg of tobacco were seized, which was estimated to be worth £174,000 in lost duty and taxes.
Steve Tracey, assistant director of the HMRC's fraud investigation service, said: "What McCullough did is theft, he was stealing from the taxpayer and also undermining legitimate, honest traders.
"Money that should have been funding our public services was lining his pocket and he's now paying the price.
"HMRC continues to work to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco, which costs the UK around £2.5 billion a year."
McCullough pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty.
HMRC claims to have reduced the black market in cigarettes by more than a third since 2000.
In the last two financial years, more than 3.1 billion illicit cigarettes and over 600 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized, resulting in over 800 prosecutions.