A couple who masterminded a nationwide counterfeit tobacco production racket capable of robbing the Exchequer of £1m a week, have received prison sentences totalling eight years.
Hua Tang Chen, 40, and Cui Wang, 32, were behind two illegal processing plants, in London and Manchester, overseeing the smuggling and distribution of illicit tobacco across the country.
Hua Tang Chen was caught by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators unloading boxes of counterfeit packaging and duty stamps at his girlfriend’s Barking home in April this year. A few minutes later, a delivery vehicle arrived containing 105,800 non-UK duty paid cigarettes concealed in air filters. A search of his flat uncovered £20,000 in used £20 notes.
In a separate raid on the same day, HMRC uncovered machinery used to process raw tobacco in a garage Wang rented in Chingford. They also found three tonnes of processed hand-rolling tobacco.
At the same time HMRC raided a house in Failsworth, Manchester, where a further processing plant was unearthed, as well as nearly two tonnes of raw tobacco. Three illegal Chinese workers who were working and living in the house, later admitted the fraudulent evasion of excise duty and were each sentenced to six months in prison in June this year. The duty and taxes evaded on all the goods seized totalled £1.2m.
Cui Wang was arrested at home before the raids in London and Manchester were carried out. She was sentenced in her absence, as she absconded before her trial.
Hua Tang Chen was sentenced to three years in prison when he appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court today. In her absence, Cui Wang was sentenced to five years in prison.
Chris Gill, Assistant Director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: “Hua Tang Chen and Cui Wang were overseeing a huge operation, flooding the streets of the UK with illicit tobacco with absolutely no regard to the potential harm such criminal acts cause to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.
“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2bn a year and by dismantling this illegal operation, we have prevented millions of pounds from being stolen through the evasion of duty.
“We would urge anyone with information about people dealing in illicit cigarettes or tobacco, or the whereabouts of Cui Wang, to contact our 24-hour hotline on 0800 595000.”