Belfast Telegraph

Woman is arrested as customs target £5m car VAT fraud

By Jonathan McCambridge

A woman has been arrested and almost one million illegal cigarettes seized during a major customs swoop in Armagh.

The international operation into a suspected £5.5m VAT and money laundering fraud has led a series of arrests in Armagh, Merseyside and Birmingham.

The three men and two women were arrested as part of a multi-agency investigation, headed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), linked to the export of cars from the UK to Ireland.

HMRC officers carried out searches at three private addresses in Merseyside, two in Co Armagh and one in Birmingham yesterday.

Officers from the PSNI, Merseyside and West Midlands forces assisted in the operation.

Simultaneous searches by Garda officers took place in Co Louth in the Republic.

Sandra Smith, assistant director of the fraud investigation service with the HMRC, said: "HMRC takes tax fraud extremely seriously and anyone deliberately choosing to evade the taxes they owe should expect not only a heavy fine, but possibly a criminal prosecution as well.

"Anyone with information about people who may be involved in tax fraud can contact the tax evasion hotline on 0800 788 887."

Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy welcomed the operation which, he said, had struck a blow against organised criminality.

Mr Kennedy said: "This is very welcome news and clearly it is an important breakthrough against criminal gangs in the area.

"Despite this success we can't be complacent and I would encourage the authorities to continue to bear down on the illegal gangs determined to cheat the system."

The Ulster Unionist Party Assembly member added: "This operation seems to have spread into the Republic and parts of England so it is clear that these criminal gangs are operating on a local, national and international level and increased vigilance is required."

Computers, mobile phones, paperwork and almost one million cigarettes were seized as part of the operation.

Investigations into the suspected fraud are ongoing.

During the operation:

• A man aged 65 was arrested at an address in the Birmingham area and a residential property was searched;

• A man aged 48 and woman aged 43 were arrested at an address in the Formby area of Merseyside and a residential property was searched;

• A man aged 44 was arrested at an address in the Huyton area of Merseyside and a residential property searched;

• A residential property in central Liverpool was searched;

• A woman aged 43 was arrested at an address in Co Armagh and two residential properties searched during which 949,000 cigarettes were seized.

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