A silver notebook, meticulously detailing the inner workings of a tobacco smuggling ring, helped to unravel a £16m racket, it has emerged.
Orrell man Kenneth Blakeley received a suspended prison sentence for his role as a courier for the scam, which in total involved 44 million untaxed cigarettes and 38,000 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco.
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The 45-year-old, of Mersey Road, has also been told by a Preston Crown Court judge that if he doesn’t find £45,000, said to be the profits from his ill-gotten gains, he will face 15 months behind bars.
His downfall came after customs investigators uncovered a little silver book, belonging to Blackburn postmaster Iqbal Haji, and another similar ready reckoner, detailing the movements of illegal cigarette and tobacco consignments.
Haji was the ringleader of a bid to flood the streets of the north west, including Wigan, with cut-price and untaxed smoking materials and is currently serving a six-year jail term. Six others were also imprisoned and two more also received suspended prison terms, for their roles in the plot.
Blakeley was among what customs bosses have called his “loyal customers”, who would turn up at his modest home to load up with cigarettes and tobacco, distributed from his garage.
Some of the favoured brands, passed on to the middlemen, were Pect and President cigarettes and Golden Virgina and Amber Leaf hand-rolling tobacco, none of which were intended for UK sale.
Investigators believe that the bulk of the bogus merchandise was sold on via a network of delivery agents in pubs and clubs and at car boot sales.
Sandra Smith, HM Revenue and Customs’ fraud investigation service assistant director, said the scam represented “an organised, sustained and despicable attack on the public purse”.
She added: “Iqbal Haji’s notebooks were like gold dust. They provided a detailed record of how this criminal conspiracy peddled cut-price, illegal cigarettes at the expense of legitimate traders and the UK taxpayer. We want a level playing field for local businesses.”