Booze fraudster businessman had ‘veneer of respectability’

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A Scottish businessman has been jailed for five years for taking part in a £1.8m fraud to dodge alcohol duty.

Mohammed Ajmal Tariq was part of a gang who illegally diverted spirits, beer and wine from ‘bonded’ warehouses throughout the UK  in what a judge described as an ‘ingenious and complex fraud.’

He and five others were jailed for a total of 19 years for supplying illicit alcohol after an HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) investigation.

In court he was described as having a ‘veneer of respectability as an honest businessman when he was anything but.’

Tariq, from Bathgate, was one of the principle buyers of alcohol consignments in the Aberdeen area destined for European clients, such as in Spain and Estonia, which were then deliberately diverted to the illegal network.

Samples of the missing alcohol were found on sale in Glasgow.

Tariq, 47, was the director of Direct Plus Distribution based in West Lothian and he also used the company name ‘Direct Marketing Plus’ which dealt in the supply and sale of alcohol.

During the course of their investigation, HMRC officers discovered that spirits, beer and wine were taken from ‘bonded’ warehouses throughout the UK and then illegally diverted from their intended destination (usually Europe), ending up for sale in the North West of England, Scotland and the Midlands without duty having been paid.

The mastermind behind the fraud, Paramjit Bagri from Holywell, North Wales, and five other men, were charged with conspiring to evade UK duty between January 2007 and January 2008.

Mike O’Grady, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: “These men diverted large numbers of consignments of alcohol from their intended legitimate destinations thereby avoiding paying UK duty and taxes.

“It was a very calculated attempt to defraud the Crown and to personally profit from the illegal trade.

“HMRC is committed to protecting public finances from attacks by organised crime. We would ask anyone with information relating to this type of crime to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 and help us stamp it out. Remember if you are offered cheap alcohol or cigarettes you could be financing criminals like this.”

On sentencing, His Honour Judge Steiger said: “This was an ingenious and complex fraud and I am satisfied that Bagri was top of the tree”.

Bagri and three men, Nadim Iqbal (from Oldham), Mohammed Vaqas (from Rochdale) and Baldeep Singh Tahkar (from Billingham), pleaded guilty before the start of a trial. Richard Gerrard Ellis (from Manchester) and Mohammed Tariq (from Scotland) were found guilty by a jury at Manchester Crown Court in June 2011.

Confiscation proceedings are now underway involving the analysis of how key figures in the gang attempted to evade taxes and hide the cash gained from their illegal trade. The evaded UK duty alone was given as over £1,799,448 in court, however, the confiscation will look to determine other tax evasion and criminal benefits associated with their activities.

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