Nine arrested in £6 million counterfeit tobacco plot

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Eight men and one woman have been arrested in raids carried out yesterda by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers.

The raids were carried out on suspicion of illegally manufacturing and distributing a massive quantity of counterfeit hand rolling tobacco.

It is believed that the illegal activities of an organised crime gang would have resulted in a revenue loss to public finances of at least £6 million a year. The operation was supported by Staffordshire and Thames Valley Police forces.

Adrian Farley, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: “Our actions have disrupted what we believe to be the manufacture and supply of a substantial amount of illicit tobacco at an illegal manufacturing and distribution plant. With over £2 billion being stolen from UK finances each year by criminals involved in the illicit tobacco industry, its serious crime which we are determined to eradicate. We would encourage anyone with information regarding tax evasion and fraud to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000. Calls can be made anonymously.”

Among the items seized were 254 kilos of counterfeit hand rolling tobacco, packed into 11 boxes from commercial premises in Staffordshire.

Three machines used to wrap and seal hand rolling tobacco pouches together with hundreds of boxes of counterfeit wrappings for numerous brands including Golden Virginia and Amber Leaf along with sheets of holograms, packet seals, and a quantity of completed packets of hand rolling tobacco from a residential address in Milton Keynes.

Two machines believed to be used in the process of cutting and drying tobacco, 250 kilos of processed cut tobacco, and 500 kilos of loose tobacco leaf from a rural farm building in Leighton Buzzard.

A cannabis factory housing around 100 plants was also found. Thames Valley Police are making further enquiries.

Three men aged 43, 45 and 47 from Staffordshire, one man aged 28 from the West Midlands, four men aged 21, 31, 34 and 40 and a woman aged 45 from Buckinghamshire have all been arrested. Three of the men are UK nationals, one is a Latvian national and five others were either Chinese nationals or joint UK Chinese nationals.

All have been bailed until May 2012. Two men and one woman have been referred to UKBA, believed to be potential illegal immigrants.

The individuals were arrested on alleged offences under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, and money laundering under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.