Counterfeit tobacco masterminds sentenced in UK

A couple who were involved with a counterfeit tobacco production racket worth £1m a week have been sentenced in the UK.

Hua Tang Chen, 40, of Tottenham, and his girlfriend Cui Wang, 32, of Barking, were sentenced to three years and five years in prison, respectively, for the illegal production and distribution of counterfeit tobacco.

Wang, however, is on the run having absconded before the trial. She was sentenced in her absence but a police search is in place for her.

A further three illegal Chinese workers in Manchester were sentenced in June to six months each in prison after admitting to fraudulent evasion of excise duty.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators caught Chen red handed in April unloading boxes of counterfeit packaging and duty stamps at Wang's Barking home. Wang had been arrested there earlier.

The investigators also intercepted a delivery vehicle arriving at the address that contained 105,8000 non-UK Duty paid cigarettes concealed in air filters, and also seized £20,000 in used £20 notes following a search at Chen's Tottenham flat.

Two further raids took place on the same day. One was at a garage that Wang rented in Chingford where HMRC uncovered tobacco processing machinery and found three tonnes of processed hand-rolling tobacco. The second raid was at a house in Failsworth in Manchester where tobacco processing machinery and nearly two tonnes of raw tobacco was found, along with three illegal Chinese workers who were working and living in the house.

The duty and taxes evaded on all the goods seized totalled £1.2m.

Chris Gill, assistant director, fraud investigation service at HMRC, said the agency was clamping down of the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2bn a year.

"Hua Tang Chen and Cui Wang were overseeing a huge operation, flooding the streets of the UK with illicit tobacco with absolutely no regard to the potential harm such criminal acts cause to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses."

"By dismantling this illegal operation, we have prevented millions of pounds from being stolen through the evasion of duty."

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