Prisoner in drinks scam ordered to repay £10m

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A serving prisoner who masterminded an illicit trade in beer, spirits and cigarettes was ordered by a judge yesterday to repay £10m of his ill-gotten gains to the public purse. It was the largest confiscation order made by an English court.

A serving prisoner who masterminded an illicit trade in beer, spirits and cigarettes was ordered by a judge yesterday to repay £10m of his ill-gotten gains to the public purse. It was the largest confiscation order made by an English court.

Ellis Martin, 41, was warned that if he did not pay up within two years, another five years would be added to the nine he is already serving.

Judge Christopher Elwen said Martin was "plainly the brains and drive behind a sophisticated and well-organised diversion fraud" that had netted him an £18m profit.

He said Martin's claim of making just £3m profit was "quite inconceivable". He had no doubt the "resourceful" fraudster had managed to conceal the bulk of his illegal fortune.

London's Southwark Crown Court heard that Martin had refused to relinquish his nefarious business on being jailed for a £4.75m scam in 1994. He had continued to defraud Inland Revenue of excise duty and VAT while behind bars- costing the public purse £23m.

Martin's associates were allowed access to him in prison after a "corrupt solicitor" organised passes for them to visit posing as legal executives. The visits, accorded legal privilege, were held in private.

The gang was able to shift more than 1,000 lorry loads of alcohol across the Channel as legitimate exports - and then secretly return them to sell in Britain. The domestic market was flooded with cut-price alcohol as the gang pretended it was being exported.

An investigator said if the cases of alcohol involved were placed end to end "they would stretch to the moon and back".

Martin, from Southgate, London, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to cheat between October 1994 and January 1997.

Probing one of the biggest swindles of its kind uncovered in Britain, investigators discovered an extensive investment portfolio funded by crime.

It included flats, houses and farms in the country, the Continent and the United States. There was even a brandy distillery in France. Bank accounts and other holdingsaround the world were traced.

The judgetold Martin: "Massive investigations there may have been, but you have shown yourself to be an extremely skilled fellow and a resourceful fraudster, an entrepreneur of considerable, if not mis-channelled, talent, quite capable of hiding away out of the reach of any investigator very considerable amounts."

Eight of Martin's associates received prison terms of between two and six years at anearlier hearing. Confiscation proceedings continue against six of them.