An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Somerset led to the arrest of one man, and uncovered more than 45,000 cigarettes and over 80 litres of spirits.
Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), working with Devon and Somerset trading standards, Avon and Somerset Police and six tobacco dogs and their handlers, visited seven retail premises and five storage units in Bridgwater, Shepton Mallet, Taunton and Yeovil on Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 November.
The visits, part of HMRC’s multi-agency activity, led to the seizure of what is believed to be non-UK duty paid tobacco and alcohol products from five retail premises. This includes:
• 45,940 cigarettes, with £12,000 duty evaded;
• Almost eight kgs of hand-rolling tobacco, with £1,400 duty evaded;
• Over 80 litres of spirits, with £800 duty evaded.
During the operation around £21,500 in cash and one car, being used to store excise goods, were also seized.
A 42 year-old man was arrested by HMRC on suspicion of evasion of excise duty and money laundering in Yeovil. He has been bailed until January 2016.
Colin Spinks, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol 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 £2.1bn a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1.2bn per year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.”
Councillor David Hall, deputy leader of Somerset County Council with responsibility for Devon and Somerset Trading Standards, said: “Illegal sales of tobacco have a huge impact on people’s health. When sold at considerably below the price of legal products they undermine efforts to reduce the prevalence of smoking. Those involved also encourage people, including children, to smoke and drink by providing a cheap source.
“Devon and Somerset trading standards officers will continue to work with partners and take firm action to stop this type of activity by using our enforcement powers against those we catch. Our officers routinely act on information we receive, so I would encourage consumers to report those involved in selling illicit tobacco because their valuable information can significantly aid our investigations."
Local policing area commander for Somerset, chief inspector Jeff Foreman, said: “We are pleased to have assisted our colleagues from trading standards and HMRC in dealing with this issue. While there are clearly issues of defrauding the Treasury, it makes trading more difficult for law abiding outlets and often we cannot be sure that the products sold are safe and what they are advertised as. We will continue to target these illegal sales with our colleagues in partner agencies.
“We would urge the public to continue to be our eyes and ears and report anything they believe to be suspicious.”