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Illicit cigs case

Two men have been jailed for their role in a plot to smuggle nearly 24 million counterfeit cigarettes into the Midlands, after an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The conspiracy would have seen nearly £4 million drained from the UK economy through duty evasion.

Unknown to the defendants HMRC criminal investigators were aware of their elaborate plans and were watching as a consignment of 5.3 million counterfeit cigarettes were delivered to an industrial unit in Leicester in July 2009.

Paul Barton, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said after the case: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale. Their plans were extremely well engineered in their bid to saturate the Midlands with illicit cigarettes – most of which were counterfeit. This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”

Background

London based defendants Andreas Apostolides and Costas Georgiou, were the masterminds behind the conspiracy. They formed a company called Bellgate in 2002 and a further company called Orion in 2009. These companies were used to front the smuggling operation in an attempt to present themselves as legitimate importers, mainly of dried pasta from Greece and stoneware from China. They were found guilty of conspiracy to evade duty through smuggling four separate consignments of counterfeit cigarettes which had been seized by HMRC officers including:

    * July 2009 – a consignment of nearly 5.3 million counterfeit Regal cigarettes, seized from a unit at Rosswalk Industrial Business Park, Leicester.

    * March 2009 – a consignment concealing around 7.5 million counterfeit cigarettes branded as Gold Classic destined for Saltley, Birmingham. The container was hijacked in an armed raid from the gates of the Birmingham trading estate but was seized later that day by West Midlands Police attending a separate offence at a unit in Small Heath, Birmingham.

    * March 2009 – a consignment concealing nearly 7 million illicit Racquel cigarettes, destined for Saltley, Birmingham, was seized at Tilbury docks.

    * September 2008 – a consignment concealing around 4 million counterfeit cigarettes of various brands was seized in Tipton, West Midlands.

Three men from the West Midlands pleaded guilty to tobacco smuggling offences relating to this seizure and were sentenced in March 2010.

Notes

Details of the defendants sentenced 20 March 2012, after a month long trial at Ipswich Crown Court include:

    * Andreas Apostolides, (DOB 31.07.49), of 5 Ridge Terrace, Green Lanes, London, was sentenced to five years in prison.

    * Costas Georgiou, (DOB 31.07.39), of 1 Hill Road, Muswell Hill, London. was sentenced to was sentenced to five years in prison.

Georgiou and co-defendant Apostolides were the main organisers of the smuggling conspiracy. They were found guilty of conspiracy to fraudulently evade excise contrary to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

3. Those sentenced in March 2010 at Wolverhampton Crown Court include:

    * John Ian Mason, (DOB 31.03.68), of 23 Cotterills Road, Tipton, West Midlands, was sentenced to two years in prison.
    * John William Thomas Wright, (DOB 01.11.64) a factory worker of 81 Glastonbury Crescent, Bloxwich, Walsall, was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months.
    * Robert Pitchford, (DOB 16.12.56), a market trader of 90 Moatbrook Avenue, Codsall, Wolverhampton, was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months.


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