A MAN has been jailed over a huge international smuggling operation in which thousands of pounds worth of cigarettes were brought into the country illegally through Coventry.
Wei He Guan headed the UK arm of a gang which used Parcel Force’s depot near Coventry Airport to smuggle the cigarettes into the UK from China – evading more than £2.5million in tax.
The cigarettes were also carrying fake labels.
Guan and three accomplices – who were all in the UK illegally – were jailed for a total of 10 years at Woodgreen Crown Court yesterday.
Guan, his wife Qing Ping Xye, Hui Qing Chen and Zhi Qiang Weng played a pivotal role in the gang, exploiting the UK’s fast parcel system.
Guan and Xye also produced pouches of fake hand-rolling tobacco at their London home. Their home was the centre of the operation. It was where most of the parcels were unloaded and redistributed.
The court heard how the gang organised the delivery and receipt of millions of tobacco products from China, mainly through the Coventry Parcel Force hub, before selling the goods on to customers, or keeping them at storage units in London.
They illegally imported more 15 million counterfeit cigarettes and nearly 2.5 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco from China, in just 14 months.
Customs officers also seized 28,000 Golden Virginia cigarettes and cellophane pouches, hologram seals and heat sealers during the operation, which they intercepted at Heathrow airport.
It is believed these were being used as part of a hand-rolling tobacco assembly production line.
Guan and Chen were the main organisers of the plot, sourcing and importing the tobacco from China and arranging the distribution in the UK.
Chen would also stop postal delivery staff, intercepting the parcels being sent illegally to legitimate addresses.
Speaking after the sentencing, Eddie Jones, assistant director for criminal investigation for Revenue and Customs, said: “This was a well-planned and executed smuggling operation on an international scale.
“This type of serious organised crime has a devastating impact on local communities and the nation’s economy.
“This form of crime often has links to drug smuggling, extortion and major fraud and impacts hard on local people and legitimate retailers.
“These smuggled tobacco products were all counterfeit and as with any fake product those buying them are potentially taking a serious health risk.
“They are unlicensed and unregulated and could contain any number of unknown substances and toxic chemicals.”
All defendants pleaded guilty to conspiring to contravene tobacco smuggling offences.
Guan was handed a four-year sentence, Chen received three years and Weng and Xye were sentenced to 18 months.
A confiscation order is being pursued, so the gang’s profits can be seized. Deportation notices have also been served.
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