A CRIMINAL gang who set up a factory capable of making up to 625 million counterfeit cigarettes and five million pouches of fake hand rolling tobacco have been jailed.
The plot, worth over £131m per annum in lost revenue, was foiled by criminal investigators who closed down the fully equipped cigarette factory in Chesterfield, before it went into production.
During the raid in September 2009, at the plant in Tapton Business Park, HM Revenue and Customs investigators seized packaging for 43 million cigarettes, cigarette paper, tipping paper, foil cellophane, glue and cardboard inners for packets of 20 cigarettes.
Officers discovered that the gang was also planning to expand into making counterfeit alcohol.
Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale.
“This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”
In two co-ordinated searches at the gang’s other industrial units in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, and a barn at Top Farm, Laxton, Newark, Nottinghamshire, the investigators also seized cigarette manufacturing equipment destined for another criminal gang, capable of producing a potential 750 million cigarettes a year with an annual revenue loss of over £141 million and a five tonne tobacco cutting machine to process the tobacco to make counterfeit hand rolling tobacco and cigarettes, from Laxton.
Ten defendants were sentenced on January 31 at Nottingham Crown Court.
Phillip William Robinson, of Southfields Close, Kirkby in Ashfield, was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. A five year crime prevention order was also granted.
Robinson was the principal player in the fraud heading up the tobacco manufacturing plant and running the UK arm of the operation. He was also responsible for organising the illicit alcohol plot.
Derek Hickling, of Woodborough Road, Nottingham, was sentenced to twelve months in prison suspended for twelve months. He is also required to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.
Hickling played a role in the alcohol supply chain.
Michael Larcombe, of Meadowside Crescent, Nottingham, was sentenced to twelve months in prison suspended for twelve months. He is also required to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.
Larcombe was the driver responsible for transporting the 5,000 litres of illegal alcohol seized.
Vincent Waller, of Jubilee Crescent, Clowne, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. A four year crime prevention order was also granted.
Waller was Robinson’s right hand man and oversaw the setting up of the machinery and sourced the commercial premises.
Peter Bent, of George Street, South Normanton, was sentenced to ten months in prison suspended for one year. A curfew from 9pm – 6am for four months was imposed.
Bent acted as a broker in the cigarette smuggling operation and was to partner Robinson in the illicit alcohol plot.
Phillip Hall, currently of HM Prison Service and formerly of Highland Way, Rugeley and Oberon Grove, Wednesbury, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Hall (along with co-defendant James) was to be the supplier of the tobacco and instruct how to operate the tobacco manufacturing machinery.
Hall was jailed for five years in March 2011 for his role in operating an illegal tobacco manufacturing plant in Blithbury, Staffordshire.
Donald James, of Meschines Street, Coventry, was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for one year. A curfew from 9pm – 6am for four months was imposed. A three year crime prevention order was also granted.
Christopher Burns, of Leigh Avenue, Burntwood, was sentenced to 16 months in prison. A three year crime prevention order was also granted.
Burns arranged the transportation of smuggled tobacco and would have played a role in commercially selling the counterfeit goods across the UK.
Andrius Kochanauskas, of Ozuku, Vilnius, Lithuania, was sentenced to five months in prison.
Kochanauskas was taking control of the second tobacco manufacturing machinery for a separate organised crime gang.
Dangis Sulzinskas, of Western Avenue, London, was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for one year. He is also required to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.
Sulzinskas was a driver and a supplier of smuggled cigarettes.
The defendants were charged with either tobacco or alcohol smuggling offences under the Customs and Excise and Management Act 1979 or conspiracy to produce cigarettes and / or hand rolling tobacco within the UK contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977 and Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.