Accountant `executed by hooded hitmen'

Cigarette fraud cash `could be compared to the National Lottery'
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The Independent Online
An accountant was coldly put to death by hooded gunmen after an American fraudster ordered "hitmen" to execute him from across the Atlantic, a jury was told yesterday.

David Wilson, 47, was shot twice in the head at his luxury country home near Chorley, Lancashire, on the orders of 39-year-old Michael Austin, according to Henry Globe QC, for the prosecution, at Carlisle Crown Court.

Mr Globe said Austin, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, was behind an international multi-million pound cigarette fraud for which Mr Wilson was a middleman.

He said Austin planned to get rid of his associate after Mr Wilson was arrested and questioned by fraud squad detectives about a deal from which Austin expected to make millions by pretending he had access to contraband cigarettes.

Mr Globe said Mr Wilson was shot in his garage by hooded contract killers while his wife Barbara and daughters Michelle, 28, and Lisa Marie, 26, were held captive inside the house.

Austinpleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Wilson at the garage of his home at Withnell Villas, just outside the village of Withnell, on 5 March 1992. He also denied conspiring with others to murder between 1 January 1991 and 6 March 1992.

Mr Globe said Mr Austin, whom the defence will admit was involved in a fraud involving a non-existent shipment of Marlboro cigarettes, was worried about what trouble Mr Wilson had caused by speaking to detectives. Austin was never known by his own name and hid behind a string of false identities, including that of a fictitious Mexican Army Colonel, Hector Portillo, the jury was told.

Massive security was in force for the trial, as police with sub-machine guns guarded the court.

Mr Globe said that at 8.45pm on Thursday 5 March 1992, when Michelle Wilson answered a knock on the door at her parents' home "the terror which is sometimes portrayed on films or on television became a reality".

The masked gunmen asked for Mr Wilson, who was out with his wife, his other daughter and her fiance Mark Stephenson for the evening. One of them told her: "Your dad has been speaking to the fraud squad." That was true, said Mr Globe, because Mr Wilson had been involved in the cigarette deal and was arrested after it went wrong. Michelle's hands were tied and when the rest of the family returned at 11pm they too were bound.

The gunmen took Mr Wilson to the garage, saying they wanted to talk. But, instead, he was shot twice behind the right ear.

Mr Globe said: "They were professional assassins paid, and presumably highly paid, for their work. They disappeared into the night as quickly and suddenly as they arrived and as yet they haven't been found, arrested and brought to justice and the search for them continues."

Outlining the alleged cigarette scam, Mr Globe said the sums of money involved could be compared to "jackpot prizes in the National Lottery".

He said Austin used false names to contact commodity dealers around the world. He told them he had access to large amounts of Mexican-made Philip Morris cigarettes which were packaged as if they were the company's more expensive American-made brand and could be sold at huge profits.

Buyers were found and false documents were used to get banks to pay out with letters of credit for the consignments. But there were no examples of cigarettes ever being delivered, the court was told. "There is clear evidence the cigarettes that were supposed to exist did not exist," said Mr Globe.

Austin never used his true identity in the fraud and even his closest associates did not know who he was. He pretended to be Hector Moretta Portillo, working for the United Nations and related to the former Mexican president Portillo, and would speak in a Mexican accent. He used other false names to rent offices near his home and dealt on the telephone through an answering machine.

The case continues today.

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