LONDON: A couple from Manchester have been jailed for a £3.8 million excise fraud, involving over 25 tonnes of counterfeit tobacco, after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Feng Gao, 39, and his partner Mingshu Yang, 43, of St Heliers Drive, Salford, were linked to over 28 deliveries of illegal hand-rolling tobacco (HRT) across the North West and eight tobacco seizures in Manchester, Liverpool and the Netherlands.
The pair used ‘cover loads’ of shoes and shelves to smuggle the tobacco into the UK. Some of the shoe soles and shelf units were hollowed out to hide the illegal tobacco. During searches in Manchester and Liverpool, HMRC seized thousands of empty counterfeit HRT packages and a tobacco processing machine.
Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:
“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2.1 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer, denying public services much needed money, as well as undermining legitimate traders. We urge anyone with information about any other commercial trading of smuggled goods and the associated tax evasion to contact HMRC on 0800 59 5000.”
HMRC officers originally arrested Gao in May 2013 outside a property on Teck Street, Liverpool, with over 100,500 fake tobacco packages in his possession.
The couple’s home in Salford was searched and investigators found the back garden strewn with debris from the smuggled loads and the garden shed full of boxes of illegal tobacco and fake packaging. Other evidence linked Gao to storage units in Liverpool and Salford.
In 2012, these storage units had been searched by HMRC and UK Border Force (UKBA) officers and were found to contain large quantities of fake tobacco pouches and illegal HRT. In addition, Dutch customs officials had intercepted a large consignment of similar goods hidden in floating shelf units destined for one of these sites. The investigators were able to link all these earlier seizures to Gao and Yang.
Gao and Yang pleaded guilty to UK Excise Duty evasion and fraud offences in March 2015. At their original sentencing in April, Gao failed to attend leaving his partner, Yang, to face the charges alone. The hearing was adjourned until 26 May and a bench warrant for Gao’s arrest was issued. Once again Gao failed to appear, and this week he was sentenced in his absence to five years jail. Yang was jailed for nine months.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Gao, please contact either HMRC, the police or Crimestoppers.