Family smuggling business goes up in smoke

A gang of men, many from the same family, who set up an illegal tobacco factory in a Doncaster house, were jailed yesterday after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

In October and November 2012 the gang, led by Ronald Edwards, 62, illegally imported more than four tonnes of low grade hand rolling tobacco worth an estimated £1,300,000 in unpaid excise duty and VAT. The gang sourced the tobacco on the continent, arranged for it to be smuggled into the UK storing it in local lock-ups they delivered manageable amounts to the makeshift factory at Edwards’ home address in Lord Close, Doncaster.

Edwards had set up a ‘cottage industry’ style production line to pack the loose tobacco with friends and family gathered around the table to help churn out counterfeit Golden Virginia and DRUM pouches. The counterfeit pouches then travelled up the road to his son Lee’s house to be cellophane wrapped for distribution and sale.

Jo Tyler, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

“Ronald Edwards treated this criminal activity as a family business. Not only were members of his immediate family heavily involved, his and his son’s homes were used as tobacco packing and packaging factories right under the nose of the local community.

“Tobacco smuggling is a serious criminal offence and Edwards and his gang will now pay for their attempts to make a criminal profit at the expense of the taxpayer. We urge members of the public who have information about the importation, sale, storage or distribution or illegal tobacco to contact our hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

The gang also included Edwards’ son Lee Edwards, sons-in-law Paul Higgins and Russell Scherdel, from Doncaster; Anthony Scothorne, also from Doncaster, Suleman Mohammed from Blackburn and Alexander Ainger, from Hornchurch, Essex.   HMRC investigators discovered that the gang sourced the illegal tobacco on trips to Belgium. Once repackaged to look like genuine Golden Virginia and DRUM, the tobacco was distributed to black market customers stretching from Grimsby to Manchester and into the North East of England.

Around £65,000 cash was seized from the gang, believed to be derived directly from their criminal activity.

The gang members were arrested on 8 November 2012 and individually charged with conspiracy to evade excise duty and money laundering offences.