An eight-strong tobacco smuggling gang which brought more than two million illegal cigarettes into the North East hidden among fridge freezers have been jailed for more than 26 years.
Ringleader Mohammad Zada, of Applecross Grove, Wynyard, presided over the smuggling gang, which was caught with illegal tobacco products worth £713,037 in unpaid duty, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed.
The largest haul was discovered on the back of a lorry in Middlesbrough where officers found 2,204,620 non-UK duty paid cigarettes hidden among a shipment fridge freezers.
Investigators also seized large amounts of illegal tobacco products from a rented storage unit and one of the gang member’s homes, both in Stockton.
Criminal mastermind Mohammad Zada, 37, was jailed for five and a half years for conspiracy to evade excise duty.
Zada’s fellow gang members, including his two brothers Mustafa and Mahdee, were also sentenced for conspiracy to evade excise duty:
* Mahdee Zada, 23, of South Road, Stockton, was sentenced to four years in prison;
* Slawomir Paprocki, 39, of Poland, was sentenced to four years in prison;
* Mustafa Zada, 31, of South Road, Stockton, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison;
* Dariusz Lodygovsky, 44, of Poland, was sentenced to 51 months in prison;
* Lukasz Maziarka, 29, of Poland, was sentenced to three years in prison;
* Ahmed Al-Shateri, 37, of Warwick Street, Middlesbrough, was sentenced to 32 months in prison;
* Anna Kabata, 35, of Grace Road, Tipton, was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.
Denis Kerr, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the North East with millions of illegal cigarettes. Zada and his gang thought their crimes would go undetected, but they got caught and now they are paying the price.
“HMRC will not tolerate the trade in illegal tobacco, which starves the UK of money which should be used to fund our vital public services. The gang evaded enough duty to pay the salaries of 31 new Cleveland Police officers for a year. I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to report it to HMRC online, or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Mohammad Zada was caught taking delivery of 2,204,620 cigarettes at his discount furniture and electrical goods store called Bargain Planet on Parliament Road in Middlesbrough.
HMRC officers, with support from the National Crime Agency, found the cigarettes in a lorry parked outside his shop in August 2017 packed in cardboard boxes and hidden between 54 fridge freezers.
Mohammad Zada’s brothers Mustafa and Mahdee were at the shop to unload the goods along with Lodygovsky.
Lorry driver Paprocki entered the UK through the Harwich International Port from Holland earlier that day along with Maziarka. Paprocki held legitimate paperwork for a delivery of white goods to a store in Bristol; however he also had a fake document for an address in Sunderland to cover-up why they were in the North East.
HMRC officers subsequently seized a further 213,940 mixed brand cigarettes and 18 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco from a self-storage unit on Malleable Way in Stockton, in September 2017. The storage unit was rented by Al-Shateri.
Al-Shateri and Mustafa Zada arrived in a van whilst HMRC officers were at the unit. CCTV footage from the unit showed Al-Shateri, Mustafa Zada and Mahdee Zada visited the unit on a number of occasions to pick-up and drop-off the illegal goods.
HMRC investigators found more illicit tobacco products at a shop ran by Al-Shateri called Charlies Corner Mini Market, on Parliament Road. The illegal tobacco products were hidden behind the counter in a sweets box.
Another 69,800 cigarettes and 27.5kg hand-rolling tobacco was found at Mahdee Zada’s home on South Road in Stockton in February 2018.
Mobile phone evidence revealed Kabata was involved in organising the import and delivery of the illegal goods. She was arrested in December 2017.
The Zada brothers, Paprocki and Kabata were convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty at Teesside Crown Court following a three week-long trial.
Al-Shateri, Maziarka and Lodygovsky admitted conspiracy to evade excise duty.
Proceedings are underway to recover the unpaid duty.
Information about any type of tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at https://www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business.