Felixstowe smuggling mastermind jailed

A 42-YEAR-old company director has been jailed for five years for masterminding a plot to smuggle almost 12 million cigarettes through Felixstowe.

Colin Adwent

A 42-YEAR-old company director has been jailed for five years for masterminding a plot to smuggle almost 12 million cigarettes through Felixstowe.

Valji Varsani tried to evade more than �2.2 m in VAT and excise duty by shipping in the contraband in three separate consignments of counterfeit cigarettes.

He was eventually caught after an investigation by customs officers.


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Ipswich Crown Court heard that on March 20 this year a container said to contain plastic DVD cases arrived at the Port of Felixstowe from Yantian, China.

An examination of the container revealed 3.8 million counterfeit “Sovereign” brand cigarettes.

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A second freight container arrived at Felixstowe nine days later, again containing 3.8 million counterfeit cigarettes. Both containers had the same delivery address, an industrial unit in a Wembley business park. Checks revealed that Varsani was the director of the company that owned the industrial unit.

On April 3 a controlled delivery took place at the industrial unit in Wembley. Varsani was seen driving a Toyota Land Cruiser around the plot before the delivery.

As the lorry was being unloaded, Varsani parked a short distance away where he could watch what was happening.

Shortly before the unloading finished, customs officers moved in and Varsani, of Harrow, was arrested along with four men who had been unloading. The five were interviewed and a number of domestic and business addresses were searched.

Following further investigations, a third container, due to be delivered to the same address, was examined at Felixstowe on April 20, 2008 and another 3.8 million counterfeit cigarettes discovered.

Judge John Holt told Versani, who pleaded guilty to all three counts of fraudulent evasion of excise duty: "You were instrumental in planning and organising the importations, and used false identities to distance yourself from the importations. You played for high stakes, you knew the risks and now you must pay the price and go to prison".

After the sentencing John Kay, Ipswich-based Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: "This was a planned, large scale operation to illegally import cigarettes into the UK.”

A proceeds of crime hearing is likely to take place later this year aimed a confiscating any profit Versani made from his crimes.

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