Wigan pensioner faces jail over £16.5m cigarettes operation

Cash and cigarettes were seized
Cash and cigarettes were seized

A retired builder turned illegal tobacco dealer from Wigan has been ordered to re-pay £45,000 ... or face jail.

Kenneth Blakeley was handed a suspended prison sentence late last year after a HM Revenue and Customs sting uncovered his role in a region-wide £16.5m smuggling racket.

Ringleader Iqbal Haji

Ringleader Iqbal Haji

Now the 61-year-old has been ordered to hand back the money he earned from the scam.

Blakeley acted as a middle man in an operation which flooded the North West with illegal cigarettes.

The gang’s leader, Iqbal Haji, has been jailed for six years and has been ordered to pay back £478,693 or face another four years behind bars.

Blakeley and another man, Mark Wood, from Middleton, bought tobacco from former postmaster Haji to sell on.

Cash and cigarettes were seized

Cash and cigarettes were seized

Wood must pay back £32,808.58.

He faces 14 months jail if he refuses, while Blakeley will serve 15 months for non-payment.

Investigators discovered Haji had kept meticulous sales records in two ‘dealer’ books at his Blackburn home.

The details have, so far, led to seven of his customers being convicted and sentenced to a total of more than 14 years.

Debbie Porter, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Our work doesn’t stop at conviction. While these two men were being sentenced, our teams continued in their efforts to secure these funds to finance public services.

“We are determined to create a level playing field for local businesses by disrupting the illegal trade and punishing fraudsters.

“We urge anyone with information about the black market in smuggled cigarettes to contact us online or to call 0800 788 887.”

Wood and Blakeley were ordered to repay the money at confiscation hearings at Preston Crown Court last week.

Blakeley was also given a 60 day curfew order. He has three months to pay back the money owed.

Information about any type of tax fraud can also be reported to HMRC online at www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business.