A criminal gang caught red-handed with bundles of ‘dirty’ cash, part of £15m made from selling alcohol illegally in the UK, has been jailed for a total of 19 years.

Investigators from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found that the criminals, from Kent, West Sussex and Essex, laundered large amounts of cash through two businesses that were allegedly selling alcohol outside the UK. In fact the businesses were run to launder the illicit cash, made from selling alcohol illegally in the UK without paying excise duty and VAT.

Louca Christos Louca, 51, from Kent, company director of Ramsgate-based Eurolink Trading, was arrested on 24 October 2011 after investigators discovered almost £100,000 cash inside his car.

The following day Gary Bissenden, 50, from Kent and Lucy Buckingham, 30, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, were arrested in an East Grinstead car park. Bissenden was carrying a holdall containing nearly £160,000 in cash. A further £17,750 and ‎€11,000 were found at his then home in Herne Bay, Kent.

Buckingham faked documents to facilitate the alcohol fraud and money laundering. She worked for Saffire Trading of East Grinstead – a company run by Steve Randall, 44, from Romford, Essex.

Analysis of business records showed Eurolink Trading and Saffire Trading were run to launder the proceeds of illicit alcohol sold in the UK. From 1 November 2010 to 3 February 2012, £15m in proceeds from these illegal sales was transferred from their business accounts (Saffire Trading £1.6m and Eurolink Trading £13.4m) into their main supplier’s bank account. The supplier, York Wines of Southend on Sea, has since ceased trading.

HMRC investigators seized £19,190 cash, business records, phones and computers at Saffire Trading’s business premises. Documents had been faked to show trade taking place in France, but laptop evidence revealed the alcohol was being sold at outlets across the UK.

All four defendants were charged with proceeds of crime offences linked to alcohol fraud, and were found guilty after an eight-week at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 22 April.

Louca was jailed for seven years and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years. Randall was jailed for six years and disqualified from being a company director for six years. Bissenden was jailed for three years. Buckingham was jailed for three years and disqualified from being a company director for five years. A fifth defendant was found not guilty.

A Proceeds of Crime Order is in place.