Cigarette-making plant one of the biggest ever found

A NOTTS man involved in conspiracies to defraud the revenue out of millions of pounds has been jailed for seven years and four months.

Phillip Robinson, 46, of Southfields Close, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, was one of the prime movers in a conspiracy to import cigarettes from Europe.

Сigarettes Manufacturing

Сigarettes packing machine

He helped set up an illegal cigarette-making factory – the biggest found by customs in the East Midlands and among the biggest nationally – in a unit at Tapton Business Park, Chesterfield.

Robinson also had another scheme on the go – to dilute 96.4 per cent alcohol and sell it to the public through legitimate retail outlets.

Nottingham Crown Court heard his plans never came to fruition as investigators began dismantling the plots in 2009.

They discovered the cigarette production line as well as a packing machine and packaging for 50 million cigarettes.

Such was the scale of the contemplated operation that a pallet truck was there ready to shift heavy loads.

But it never got off the ground because they didn’t have enough of a vital ingredient – tobacco.

Judge Jonathan Teare told the court as he sentenced Robinson and his associates for the fraud: “What was missing from the tobacco operation was the tobacco.

“Despite prolonged efforts, the principals were unable to obtain tobacco in sufficient quantities to make this operation a success.

“As leading counsel said in opening [the case], ‘this case is all about potentials’. But the potential loss to the revenue was very substantial indeed.

“If the various operations involving tobacco had been successful, the loss to the revenue could have been as high as £150 million per year.

“There were plans to expand the operation even further, so that two more cigarette manufacturing lines could be put in place.”

Three locations were rented for the schemes to take place, including the factory in Chesterfield.

At a unit in Crewe Close, Blidworth, a cigarette machine was being stored for another criminal group. Other machinery and parts were discovered including four hand-rolling, pouch-stuffing machines. In vehicles belonging to conspirators, there were Golden Virginia pouches and tobacco, the court heard.

In a rented barn at Top Farm, Laxton, there was a machine for cutting hand-rolling tobacco set up and ready to use, two pallet loads of Golden Virginia pouches and a forklift truck to move the loads.

Robinson admitted conspiring to avoid paying duty on cigarettes and alcohol.

Derek Lloyd Hickling, 47, of Woodborough Road, Mapperley, and Michael Ray Larcombe, 57, of Coleby Road, Broxtowe Estate, pleaded guilty to being involved in the fraudulent evasion of duty on 5,000 litres of alcoholic spirit.

All three appeared in court alongside seven other men from outside Notts, who received various sentences for their different involvement in the frauds.

After all ten were sentenced, Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HM Revenue and Customs, said the cigarette factory was the biggest found in the East Midlands..

“It’s certainly unprecedented,” he said.

“It was a very professional operation and set up exactly how a professional cigarette manufacturer would have done.

“It had all the machines for cutting tobacco, filling cigarettes and the paper.”

DEREK HICKLING , 47, of Woodborough Road, St Ann’s, was involved in the plan in relation to the evasion of duty on 5,000 litres of alcohol between May 4, 2009, and May 29, 2009. The judge said he fell into the same category as Larcombe. They were involved in the hire of the vehicle used to transport the 5,000 litres.

The judge gave him 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and said he must do 120 hours of unpaid work.

PHILLIP ROBINSON , 46, of Southfields Close, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, was involved in all three schemes. His sentence amounted to seven years and four months. He admitted conspiracy to evade the duty on cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco and the importation of alcohol. He had two previous convictions for fraud against the Revenue, in 2002 and 2006, the latter involving 135 kilograms of tobacco.

VINCENT WALLER , 47, of Jubilee Crescent, Clowne, Chesterfield, was involved in the conspiracy to avoid duty evasion on cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. He was jailed for two-and-a-half years. The judge said he was a “highly active” participant in the activities, subsidiary to Robinson but not far behind him. Judge Teare said: “It is quite clear you were fully aware of his activities in relation to tobacco and cigarettes, assisting him with enthusiasm, and were able to play your own part in negotiating with others.”

ANDRIUS KOCHANANAUSKAS , 30, of Vilnius, Lithuania, pleaded guilty to being involved in the plot to evade duty on cigarettes. He received five months, less 81 days already served in custody. He was involved for a matter of days, helping in the movement of a cigarette-making machine. The court heard he is a football coach and teacher.

PHILLIP HALL , 51, previously of Highland Way, Rugeley, Staffordshire, and Oberon Grove, Wednesbury, West Midlands, was jailed for 18 months consecutively to a five-year sentence he is already serving for a similar offence. He admitted conspiring to evade the duty on cigarettes and the production of hand-rolling tobacco.

CHRISTOPHER BURNS , 34, of Leigh Avenue, Burntwood, Staffordshire, admitted planning to fraudulently evade duty on cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. He received 16 months.The judge took into account a doctor’s letter about Burns’ depression at the time. He received a suspended sentence in 2007 for his role as a courier.

DANGIS SULZINSKAS , 41, of London, but originally from Lithuania, pleaded guilty to a role in the plot to evade duty on cigarettes. He received 12 months, suspended for 12 months, and 180 hours of work in the community. He was involved in the fraud for six weeks, and was taken on by Waller to drive one load of cigarettes, which would have evaded some £45k of duty, to Rainworth.

PETER BENT , 44, of George Street, South Normanton, Derbyshire, was given a ten-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, after he was concerned in the attempted evasion of duty on the production of alcohol. He was involved with Robinson for three days in the summer of 2009, discussing the plans to bottle substantial quantities of alcohol.

MICHAEL LARCOMBE , 57, of Coleby Road, Broxtowe Estate, was involved in the duty fraud on the booze. He got 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and will do 120 hours of unpaid work. The judge told him and Hickling: “The duty that was going to be evaded was over £100,000, but it was a single transaction as far as you were concerned.”

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