Trading Standards officers and HMRC seize ‘illicit’ tobacco

Posted on: 20 July 2016

An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco in Bristol and Somerset led to the arrests of two men and two women, and uncovered more than 1.2 million cigarettes, 244 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and 100-litres of spirits.

It is believed that duty and VAT totalling more than £460,000 was avoided.

Two men, aged 34 and 29, and two women, aged 31 and 21, all from Yeovil, Somerset, were arrested by HMRC on suspicion of money laundering offences. They have been bailed until October 2016.

Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support from Bristol Trading Standards, Devon and Somerset Trading Standards and North Somerset Trading Standards, visited 50 retail premises and self storage units between Wednesday 13 July and Friday 15 July 2016.

The visits, part of HMRC’s multi-agency activity, led to suspected illegal tobacco products being seized from 16 premises in Bristol, Chard, Taunton and Bridgwater.

In Bristol 824,829 cigarettes, 55.35 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco 100 litres of spirits, with a total of £279,562 of duty and VAT evaded were seized.

In Somerset 430,060 cigarettes, and 188.9 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco with an estimated £184, 46,092 duty and VAT evaded was sized.

Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Deputy Leader, said: “All Cllr David Halltobacco is harmful but illegal tobacco poses an additional threat to our children and communities because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age.

“Our officers routinely act on information we receive, and work with partner agencies including HMRC as they did in this case, so I would encourage consumers to continue to report those involved in selling illicit tobacco because their valuable information can significantly aid our investigations.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member Cllr Roger Croadresponsible for Devon and Somerset Trading Standards, said: “Trading Standards are determined to crack down on the sale and supply of illegal tobacco. These are serious criminal offences. Illegal sales of tobacco in the South West have a huge impact on people’s health.

“It is one of our top priorities for action, not only because smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death but we also know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco makes it harder for people to give up smoking.”

John Cooper, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

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