Illegal Wigan tobacco trader punished

An example of the cigarettes seized during the wide-ranging operation to snare Iqbal Haji and his customers, like Kenneth Blakeley, from Orrell
An example of the cigarettes seized during the wide-ranging operation to snare Iqbal Haji and his customers, like Kenneth Blakeley, from Orrell

An illegal tobacco trader from Wigan who became involved in a £16.5m excise duty fraud has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Customs investigators found that Kenneth Blakeley, 60, from Orrell, had been involved in trading 171,000 cigarettes and 240 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco as part of a north-west wide ring.

Undercover surveillance was carried out by customs officials into a network suspected of wholesale dealing in untaxed tobacco products, which led them to Blackburn postmaster Iqbal Haji.

He kept meticulous records of his ‘customers’, which led the HM Revenues and Customs representatives to the door of Blakeley and several of his distributors.

Haji, who was found with more than £100,000 at his home when customs investigators, was jailed for six years for tax evasion in May 2016.

Several of his accomplices have been deal with by the courts over the past 16 months.

Blakeley, of Mersey Road, who admitted to a charge of knowingly evading excise duty, was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, by Judge Andrew Woolman at Preston Crown Court.

He was also ordered to observe an electronically-monitored curfew between 8pm and 6am over a 60-day period.

Others whose names were detailed in Haji’s ‘dealer’ books, mainly from the Accrington, Darwen and Oswaldtwistle areas of Lancashire, have received jail sentences ranging from 13 months to four years,

Speaking about the investigation previously, Sandra Smith, assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders. The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated.”