A criminal gang from London, who used their freight company as a cover to smuggle more than 14 million cigarettes inside boxes of fruit and vegetables, have been jailed for a total of more than 15 years.
The three men were arrested in May 2012 after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) discovered that they had been shipping illicit cigarettes from Dubai through East Africa into the UK, evading over £3m in duty.
HMRC investigators uncovered the smuggling ring after working closely with UK Border Force and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (now the National Crime Agency).
The group was led by Feroz Batliwala, who orchestrated the purchase, shipping and delivery of the cigarettes from his home in Dubai to East Africa. The cigarettes were then concealed inside boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables and flown into the UK.
Krishan Solanki accepted the goods into the UK and managed the warehouse operation. Deliveries were made to a warehouse in Uxbridge where the smuggled cigarettes were then removed. The fruit and vegetables were then cleared for onwards delivery.
Meanwhile, Ashiquir Ali repackaged the cigarettes into laundry bags which were collected by ’customers’ and delivered to addresses in the Midlands.
Feroz Batliwala pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to eight years, six months in prison and banned from being a company director for 12 years.
Krishan Solanki was found guilty of conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from being a company director for ten years.
Ashiquir Ali pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat Her Majesty the Queen and the public revenue and was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for 24 months, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.
Confiscation proceedings to reclaim the criminal profits are under way.
John Cooper, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “This was a major investigation into the exploits of three criminals attempting to flood the UK with illicit cigarettes. These men abused their position of trust as approved importers to steal millions of pounds from law-abiding taxpayers – money which should have gone into funding the UK’s vital public services. They thought their set-up was undetectable, but they were wrong and our investigation has led to them being brought to account.”