Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland man part of cigarette smuggling scam gang jailed for five years

The gang evaded more than £4m of duty and VAT.

By Mark Edwards

A Northern Ireland man who was part of a criminal gang who attempted to flood the UK streets with millions of smuggled cigarettes and launder the proceeds by buying and selling high-value cars has been jailed for five years.

The rest of the members of the gang are from the North West of England.

Sean Dolan, 43, from Annaghmare Road in Newry, Ian Pritchard, 51, of Church Green in Merseyside, Paul Smith, 47, from Rutherup Lane in Liverpool and Ian Hindle, 39, of Edge Lane in Merseyside were behind smuggling more than 17 million non-UK duty paid cigarettes and 1.4 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco into the UK from Southeast Asia from January 2014.

The duty and VAT evaded totalled £4,308,832.

The gang used a rented flat in Liverpool as their base to plan the 20-month smuggling scam, which was busted when HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers moved in to arrest the men in late 2015.

Cigarettes seized during HMRC operation. Credit: HMRC

Antony Capon, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This gang was aiming to undercut legitimate retailers with this large quantity of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco.

"They thought that by setting up a fake business and funneling cash through it they would somehow stay under HMRC’s radar. They were wrong and it was foolish of them to believe they could get away with committing such a large-scale fraud.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market. This is theft from the taxpayer, denying public services much needed money.  We urge anyone with information about this, or any other tax evasion to contact HMRC online or our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

The seizure of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco took place at the Port of Felixstowe in September 2014, when two shipping containers were stopped by Border Force officials. The goods were described as furniture on paperwork to try and evade detection.

Cigarettes seized during HMRC operation. Credit: HMRC

During a later search of Dolan’s home, 949,600 American Legend brand cigarettes were also found hidden in the garage. 

The fraudsters tried to hide the dirty cash from the illegal tobacco sales by buying high-value vehicles and selling them on.

They set up and fronted a UK-based business, and hijacked the identity of a legitimate business, in order to launder the proceeds and avoid paying VAT.

The gang bought 102 vehicles totalling £1,138,029 – more than £500,000 of which was paid in cash. The money was then deposited into the businesses. One in particular, headed up by Pritchard, received a further £308,000 in cash over a seven-month period in 2015.

A carrier bag containing £41,000 in used notes was found under a mat in Hindle’s car on his arrest. The cash was seized and forfeited.

Hindle, Pritchard and Smith were convicted after a trial at Liverpool Crown Court. Dolan admitted guilt.

Money seized during HMRC operation. Credit: HMRC

The gang was sentenced to more than 25 years in total at the same court on Friday.

They received the following:

Ian Pritchard was sentenced to ten years in prison

Ian Hindle was sentenced to five and-a-half years in prison

Sean Dolan was sentenced to five years in prison

Paul Smith was sentenced to five years in prison

HMRC has now begun proceedings to reclaim the stolen tax.

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