A SALES manager with a steel pipe company which cheated the taxman out of £640,000 by smuggling cheap Chinese-manufactured parts has been spared jail for his role in the scam.
Instead a judge at Croydon Crown Court imposed a suspended jail sentence on Michael Kirk, 42, of Middlecot Close, Orrell.
The court had been told that Kirk, who pleaded guilty to his part in the scam, had played a key role in providing paperwork, which supported the racket that was masterminded by his ex-boss who has since fled the country.
Kirk admitted being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of duty payable on goods said to be from Japan between January 1, 2003 and July 31, 2006 and goods said to be from India between February 1, 2006 and January 31, 2008.
Croydon Crown Court Recorder Phillip Sapsford QC told first-time offender Kirk: “You were very much the first port of call for the dishonest information provided to Customs and Excise.
“Your firm gained an unfair advantage over those who complied with the rules.”
He sentenced Kirk to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for a year, and ordered him to carry out 100 hours community service.
The parts were subject to a 58.6 per cent tax - nicknamed ‘anti-dumping duty’ - imposed to thwart importers unfairly undercutting rivals within the EU.
The company, Ashby Scott Ltd. of Unit A, Shell Green Estate, Gorsey Industrial Estate, Widnes was convicted on the same two counts.
Company director John Sutton, 64, of Devon was also found guilty in his absence. A warrant has been issued for his arrest and he is believed to be hiding somewhere in Canada.
Kirk’s lawyer Mr Graham Robinson told the court: “He is a hard-working man and before he foolishly got himself involved in this.”
Kirk is a 25 per cent shareholder in Ashby Scott Manufacturing Ltd but the court heard that his only real asset is the family home he shares with his wife and 15 year-old daughter.
Mr Robinson added: “Mr Kirk received no direct benefit. He was persuaded by Mr Sutton that the tax would be paid.”
He said that a total of £175,000 tax has now been paid.
Recorder Sapsford told Kirk: “It was as a result of your information that the customs tariffs were completed and the duty evaded, but you were let down by the company and Mr Sutton.”
Kirk was also fined £10,000 with the alternative of six months’ imprisonment and was ordered to pay £10,000 costs within three years.