Cigarette smugglers jailed

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A WEARSIDE man is one of a criminal gang sentenced for smuggling millions of fake cigarettes into the UK.

Ian Lumsden, 34, from Southwick, was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to tobacco smuggling in February last year.

Unemployed Lumsden, of Maypole Close, was involved in the transport of the cigarettes in November 2007, along with 10 men and one women.

The leader of the gang, Peter Vyse, a market trader from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire, was jailed along with nine other gang members for a total of over 30 years at Southwark Crown Court in London on Wednesday.

He was the ringleader of the gang that smuggled more than 64million fake cigarettes into the UK, evading £10million in duty.

The court heard how Vyse travelled extensively to Greece and Romania, organising shipments of counterfeit cigarettes, many of them made in Moldova and Ukraine.

He also met with fake cigarette manufacturers and suppliers, including the Italian Mafia, who supplied many of the cigarettes the gang smuggled into the UK.

Between November 2007 and June 2008, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) seized five shipments containing more than nine million smuggled cigarettes.

Further investigations identified 25 shipments, containing more than 64million cigarettes, hidden in consignments of glass, fruit juice, pickled vegetables and dog food.

John Cooper, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “This was a daring attempt to rip-off smokers and taxpayers by flooding the UK with millions of counterfeit cigarettes.

“With expertly-crafted packaging, it can be difficult to spot fake cigarettes, but like any other counterfeit product, you have no idea exactly what you’re buying.

“Tobacco smuggling is organised crime on a global scale with huge profits ploughed straight back into the criminal underworld.

“This has been a complex investigation, which has put a stop to the activities of this gang and resulted in significant jail sentences.

“Our next step will be to recover the profits from their illegal activities.

“Anyone with information about this type of criminal activity is urged to contact the Customs hotline 0800 59 5000 or email customs.hotline@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.”

Following an investigation by HMRC, Peter Vyse, 55, and Dennis Lynch, 44, from Hertfordshire, Paul Tucker, 50, Dean Grainger, 32, Sean Pickering 40, Michael Sharpe, 49, and David Colakovic, 29, from South Yorkshire, Terence Boreham, 49, from Middlesex, Stephen Eley, 48, from Essex, and Louise Thurston, 37, of no fixed abode, were charged with the fraudulent evasion of excise duty.

Paul Lynch, 46, from Hertfordshire, will be sentenced at a later date.