Cigarette smuggling gang led by Coventry man jailed

A gang who smuggled millions of cigarettes into the UK, dodging £1.5m in customs duty, have been jailed.

An investigation by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs led to nine million cigarettes being seized in raids at nine UK locations in 2009.

Seven men were jailed for between five years and four months and 10 months.

Six of the men admitted conspiracy to evade excise duty at Birmingham Crown Court while two of them pleaded guilty to money laundering.

All of the cigarettes seized during the raids were either fakes branded as Marlboro, Superkings, Regal, Sovereign, and L&M's, or made for the smuggling market.

Illegal proceeds

The UK side of the gang's operations was led by Miqdad Salih, 38, of Purefoy Road, Coventry.

He and Goran Ahmed, also aged 38, of Farren Road, Coventry, and Khalid Hareem, 29, of Warmwell Close in the city, were then distributing the cigarettes to retailers in the Midlands.

The cigarettes were being smuggled into the country from Poland, Latvia and Romania by Milian Matei, 38, of Bowthorpe Close, Northampton, Dmitrijs Smirnovs, 26, of Benton Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and Aleksandrs Maculevics, 26, of Archer Road, also in Stevenage.

The seventh member of the gang, Ezzat Hamasleh, of Beaks Farm Gardens in Edgbaston, Birmingham, laundered the group's criminal proceeds.

For evading duty, Ahmed and Hareem were jailed for two years and four months, while Matei, Maculevics and Smirnovs all received two-year sentences.

Salih, who also admitted evading the payment of duty, further pleaded guilty to money laundering and was given a jail term of five years and four months.

Customs officers also confiscated £75,000 in illegal proceeds from him.

Hamasleh admitted money laundering and was jailed for 10 months.

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