Members of a criminal gang responsible for the biggest alcohol smuggling fraud ever uncovered in the UK have been jailed.
Led by gang leader Kevin Burrage, owner of bonded warehouse Promptstock Ltd, the scam was worth £50m a year in unpaid duty and VAT.
The gang bought household branded beer, wine and spirits from bonded warehouses in France and imported it duty free into the UK, destined for Promptstock. Once safely through customs, the alcohol was illegally diverted to locations around the UK where it was sold on without duty being added.
The gang also reversed the fraud by appearing to send trucks to France loaded with non-duty paid alcohol. The alcohol actually remained in the UK and was sold on, again with no tax added. To avoid detection, the gang sent empty trucks to the continent, several of which were intercepted by UK Border Agency officers.
Accomplice Michael Turner owned Keytrades Ltd which provided a seemingly legitimate cover for movements of the alcohol consignments. Following a covert surveillance operation, the gang was arrested in a series of dawn raids by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers.
The gang members received between 16 months and 10 years in jail.
Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) chief executive James Bielby welcomed the news but said that more needed to be done.
“These prosecutions are a victory for HMRC but the scale of the scam - £50m a year taken from the public purse, and millions more lost by legitimate wholesalers – demonstrates that enforcement alone is not enough and we need the government to introduce measures that will make such large-scale fraud impossible,” he added.