pounds 65m smuggling operation smashed

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The Independent Online
One of the largest alcohol and cigarettes smuggling operations in Britain - worth an estimated pounds 65m - was smashed yesterday by Customs investigators.

Forty people were arrested and about 100 businesses and homes were raided during the national and international investigation.

In the largest operation of its kind ever undertaken by HM Customs and Excise's national investigation service, huge quantities of smuggled wines, beers, spirits and cigarettes were recovered.

It is estimated that the frauds uncovered cost at least pounds 65m in lost duty.

Yesterday's operation involved raids on premises as far apart as Newcastle upon Tyne, Keighley in West Yorkshire, Birmingham, various locations in Essex and Kent, and Poole in Dorset.

The raids coincide with theBudget announcement that the Government is to launch a crackdown on revenue fraud, smuggling and tax evasion, in an attempt to raise pounds 2.5bn more tax over the next three years. Alcohol and tobacco manufacturers have bitterly complained that vast quantities of goods are being brought over from France supposedly for personal use, but are being sold on the black market and illegally in shops. Smugglers have been making daily trips to France and filling vans with drink and tobacco.

At least three types of fraud are thought to have been foiled by yesterday's operation.

In the first, large quantities of spirits and cigarettes, classified as duty-free because they were ostensibly for export, are believed to have been sold on to the home market.

In another fraud, beer, wines and spirits were smuggled into this country from France without any duty being paid at the point of entry.

In addition, investigators are probing the alleged fraudulent reclaiming of duties originally paid in respect of beer which should have been exported, but which was in fact sold on the home market.

As well as the illicit alcohol, investigators impounded cash, cars, lorries and trailers.

Jim McGregor, the service's deputy chief investigation officer, said: "This extensive operation is the culmination of intensive investigation both in the UK and abroad, aimed at major criminal organisations defrauding the Exchequer of very large sums of excise duty and VAT."