Our Andrew Millar, Partner at RP Crawford & Co Solicitors this week concluded a criminal case whereby an asylum seeker was spared jail with a suspended sentence following police identification of an illegal cigarette smuggling operation in Belfast.

On Wednesday, 25 January 2021, a 32-year-old Chinese national was charged with processing £20,000 in criminal property as well as two charges of fraudulent evasion of customs duty on smuggled cigarettes.

The defendant was handed an 18-month suspended sentence for two years.

Criminal Offences

The offences, dated from January 2017, included nearly 400,000 in illegal cigarettes posted to the defendant’s Belfast address. However, Defence Counsel Aileen Smyth revealed that while the defendant was only paid a modest sum for allowing his home to be used as a delivery address, there was no sign of significant expenditure on his part nor the trappings of a lavish lifestyle

Pleading guilty to possessing £20,000 in criminal property and two charges of fraudulent evasion of customs duty which amounted to nearly £200,000 on smuggled cigarettes, the defendant was spared jail despite being on the run for three years.

Judge Donna McColgan QC told the defendant that despite keeping out of trouble during the three years and whilst vulnerable to exploitation being an asylum seeker, he must also have been trusted by the smugglers given the amounts of cash he was carrying.

Judge McColgan also said while the defendant would be given credit for his guilty plea, she was not prepared to reduce it further for not coming under adverse police notice since his initial arrest, as he’d clearly been living “under the radar”.

Steve Tracey, Assistant Director at HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service said:

“The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.9 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders. We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

RP Crawford Criminal Solicitors

Andrew Millar at RP Crawford & Co Solicitors can advise at the stage of an investigation and before charges are brought. We offer a 24-hour call out service 7 days per week for Arrests or Police Station work.

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