Four men have been jailed for their part in a £50m alcohol tax evasion fraud.
Gang leader Kevin Burrage, 49, who owned Promptstock, a bonded warehouse in Essex, was found guilty of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and jailed for 10 years following a three-month trial at Canterbury Crown Court.
His brother-in-law, Gary Clarke, 55, who managed the warehouse, was sentenced to six years and nine months behind bars.
Michael Turner, 52 and Davinder Dhaliwal, 32, who had earlier pleaded guilty to the charges, were sentenced to three years and two months and 16 months respectively.
The gang bought household branded beer, wine and spirits from bonded warehouses in France and imported it duty free into the UK, destined for Promptstock. Once safely through Customs, the alcohol was illegally diverted to locations around the UK, where it was sold on without duty being added.
The gang also reversed the fraud by appearing to send trucks to France loaded with non-duty paid alcohol. The alcohol actually remained in the UK and was sold on, again with no tax added. To avoid detection, the gang sent empty trucks to the Continent, several of which were intercepted by UK Borders Agency officers.
Following a covert surveillance operation, the gang was arrested in a series of dawn raids by HM Revenue & Customs officers in November 2008. The investigation saw HMRC officers and CPS lawyers working with counterparts from Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Turkey to gather evidence.
CPS specialist fraud prosecutor George Barbary said the conviction was a significant breakthrough in the prosecution and investigation of alcohol diversion fraud, which is estimated to cost the country up to £1bn in lost tax revenue each year.
“This is far from being a victimless crime,” said Barbary. “These fraudsters have undermined honest and hardworking retailers, as well as British taxpayers. We would all rather see the money these people stole being spent on schools and hospitals instead of being pocketed by criminals to fund luxurious lifestyles with expensive houses, jewellery, holidays and cars – including, for these defendants, highest-specification Mercedes and a Sports Bentley.”