THE Scots kingpin behind a £28 million cigarette smuggling ring has been jailed after a three-year probe by customs investigators.
Kamaran Khader, 29, from Greenock, was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiracy to evade excise duty following a jury trial at Manchester Crown Court. A second Scots gang member, 36-year-old Sirwan Hassan, from Glasgow, was jailed for five years over the conspiracy.
They are among seven men, the rest were from various areas of England, who were caught smuggling millions of pounds worth of low grade, counterfeit tobacco into the UK and distributing it across Scotland and northern England.
Khader took charge of planning by sourcing the cigarettes and tobacco and arranging their delivery to the UK. Once imported, the goods were transported to industrial storage sites in Blackburn, Oldham, Essex, Ascot and Slough.
The gang came to the attention of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in 2010 after officers found 390,000 cigarettes inside a van and a further 780,000 hidden between sheets of insulation at an address in Blackburn. The gang was also linked to a seizure of 840,000 Jin Ling cigarettes in September 2011 in Oldham and a shipment of nine million Golden Eagle cigarettes which arrived in Southampton in April 2012.
HMRC officers began to track the gang and spied on a meeting between five of the gang members in Essex in May 2012. They followed them to a local storage unit and discovered a further 1.4 million illegal cigarettes and a plastic carrier bag containing £84,400 in cash.
In January 2013 officers intercepted a van containing 270,000 cigarettes at an industrial unit in Ascot and in January 2013 they found 1.8 million duty free cigarettes at a site in Slough.
The gang were finally unravelled and arrested after forensics teams were able to identify fingerprints and DNA found on discarded cans and bottles at sites where they had been transferring loads of cigarettes.
Jo Tyler, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said: "Khader and his gang were heavily involved in the importation and supply of illegal cigarettes. These men were making substantial criminal profits at the expense of the taxpayer and, by feeding the black market, were depriving honest retailers of the chance to earn a living. But, they were lazy when it came to clearing up after themselves, leaving evidence behind that proved their involvement in this crime.
"Cigarette smuggling is a serious criminal offence and the sentences reflect that. HMRC is committed to identifying and bringing to justice those who are involved in this type of crime."
The three other members of the gang convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty were Ahmed Salim Khezri, 24, from Rochdale, who was sentenced to six years; Ari Mohammed Rahimi, 23, from Oldham, who was sentenced to five years; and Khalim Khan, 31, from Walsall, who was sentenced to eight months.
Two further gang members were convicted of money laundering in March and each sentenced to eight months. They were Waleed Mohyi, 34, from Bolton, and Domink Kamusinski, 28, from Slough.