JAILED: Gang member from the Fens who helped steal �1.5million in duty and VAT by smuggling millions of cigarettes into UK

A MARCH man who was the last member of a gang that attempted to steal �1.5 million in duty and VAT by smuggling millions of cigarettes into the UK hidden in furniture has been jailed.

Anthony Wheeler, the second in command of the five man gang, was jailed for three years at Ipswich Crown Court for duty evasion.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) investigators led a series of early morning raids across Essex when Wheeler and his accomplices were arrested, and later charged, with smuggling offences.

The five men had been caught after a surveillance operation by HMRC officers revealed the delivery of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco to a warehouse at Billet Works in Walthamstow.

Wheeler, 49, who pleaded guilty in September 2011, was sentenced on Friday. He has previously lived at addresses in Clacton, Enfield and Layham (near Hadleigh), but of late lived at Mortons Court, Station Road, March.

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Paul Barton, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, said: “This is the fifth and final man to be sentenced in this sophisticated and organised fraud. These men used knowledge gained from a legitimate furniture import business to try to evade the payment of duty.

“What appeared to be a legitimate business was just a sham to cover their illegal activities. Instead of supporting economic growth they were devastating honest retailers in their community and sucking millions of pounds each year from public funding.”

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In sentencing, His Honour Judge Holt described Wheeler as the number two in the organisation, working from Indonesia to facilitate the smuggling offences.

HMRC investigators uncovered 22 shipments originating in the Far East between July 2007 and April 2009. For all but two of these, Wheeler, who had lived in Indonesia for a number of years, used his contacts there to set up a series of legitimate furniture importations.

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