Death fights for its rights

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The Independent Online
Customs & Excise is discriminating against old people, the ill and those with physical or mental disabilities, according to a complaint, waiting to be heard by the European Court of Justice, that could cost the Treasury pounds 9.5bn.

The appeal to defend the rights of the disadvantaged is part of a recent application by the Enlightened Tobacco Company, maker of Death Cigarettes, which was forced out of business by Customs & Excise last year.

Enlightened fell foul of the excise officials with a scheme to import its cigarettes from a manufacturer in Luxembourg. But it claims the scheme is legal under European law, which guarantees the free passage of goods and individuals.

The firm said it was acting as an agent for its UK customers, and therefore was entitled to the same VAT holiday as people taking day trips across the Channel to shop for alcohol in Calais.

By outlawing the practice, it claims, Customs & Excise is stopping people who can not travel easily from taking advantage of the duty-free shopping available to others.

A High Court ruling last year went against the company, and an appearance in the Appeal Court resulted only in a referral to the European Court of Justice. After hearing that the Treasury stood to lose up to pounds 9.5bn a year if the scheme were allowed, the British Courts refused to allow Enlightened an injunction to continue trading while the case is pending.

The company has now become an inactive group of firms sheltering under Corporate Voluntary Arrangement, which prevents them from being wound up.

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