Stevenage men in cigarette smuggling gang jailed

TWO men have been jailed after smuggling millions of illegal cigarettes into the UK for distribution as part of a gang which dodged �1.5m in customs duty.

Latvian nationals Aleksandrs Maculevics and Dmitrijs Smirnovs organised the importation and onward distribution of illicit cigarettes from their Stevenage homes.

Maculevics, of Archer Road, and Smirnovs, of Benton Road, were each sentenced to two years in prison for their part in the criminal operation which saw them smuggle cigarettes from Poland, Latvia and Romania into the country to be sold.

The pair, both aged 26, were helped by Milian Matei, of Bowthorpe Close, Northampton, who was also given a two-year jail term when sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court for evading duty.

Helped by four other members, the gang flooded the UK with millions of illegal cigarettes, with money laundering of the profits helping them evade �1.5 million in unpaid duty and VAT.

The gang, who all pleaded guilty, were caught after after an investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) led to raids at nine locations in the UK in 2009.

Officers seized nine million cigarettes during the raids, all of which were either fakes branded as Marlboro, Superkings, Regal, Sovereign and L&M’s, or were made for the smuggling market.

Most Read

Miqdad Salih, 38, of Purefoy Road, Coventry, led the UK arm of the criminal operation and sold smuggled cigarettes from a shop he owned in Coventry, where illegal profits of �75,000 were confiscated.

Salih was sentenced to five years and four months in prison for conspiracy to evade excise duty and money laundering offences.

Fellow Coventry residents Goran Ahmed, 38, of Farren Road, and Khalid Hareem, 29, of Warmwell Close, helped Salih distribute 6.5 million cigarettes across the Midlands. They were each jailed for two years and four months.

Ezzat Hamasleh, who organised the money laundering from his home in Beaks Farm Gardens, Birmingham, was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

John Pointing, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “These men set out to make vast amounts of money at the expense of legitimate retailers by ripping-off unsuspecting smokers and the taxpayer.

“They were out to line their own pockets in the belief they wouldn’t get caught. However, they are now paying the price for their criminal activity with the loss of their freedom. This will serve as a firm warning to others involved in tobacco smuggling - you will be caught.”