HMRC shuts down a huge cigarette smuggling operation. This criminal activity cost the Treasury £2.8million in evaded excise duty.

When were they discovered?

On 15th June 2017, at a Lincoln farm, Svajunas Navagruckas was caught with £8.5million worth of illegal cigarettes. But this isn’t the end of the story. It takes tenacity from HMRC and European cooperation to secure convictions like this.

As HMRC continued their investigation, he fled to Lithuania. But in March 2019, HMRC charged him with conspiracy to evade excise duty and a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued.

The Lithuanian authorities captured Navagruckas and returned him to the UK on 10th July 2020. He pleaded guilty to the charge in Nottingham Crown Court on 10th August 2020. And was sentenced to 28 months in prison on 5th February 2021.

How did they find them?

Obviously, for security reasons, the full details of HMRC’s operation can’t be revealed. They considered Navagruckas to be the leader of a criminal gang. But other members have also been imprisoned, after being extradited from Lithuania where they fled to avoid charges.
They were all caught on the same day, in what must have been an extremely well-coordinated operation. Andrej Jerofejev and Martynas Nazaras were arrested as they were unpacking cigarettes from their hiding place inside window frames. And Vilmantas Simaitis was simultaneously arrested while he was at a local petrol station.

European Arrest Warrants were sent out, leading to Jerofejev and Nazaras’ arrests in Lithuania in 2019. Simaitis was caught in 2020. After their extradition to the UK, they all pleaded guilty and imprisoned for four years.

HMRC are delighted with the result

Assistant Director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, Richard Paris, said: “Navagruckas was the head of an organised criminal network intent on flooding our streets with millions of illicit cigarettes. These kinds of cigarettes come at a cost as they undermine legitimate traders, take vital revenue away from our public services, and can all too easily find their way into the hands of children. We continue to pursue the remaining gang member Robertas Borovskis, 40. If anyone has information about his whereabouts, please report it online at GOV.UK.
We also encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

£2.8million in excise duty alone. That’s not to mention all the other tax liabilities they should have paid, had they been a legitimate business, like corporation tax, income tax and National Insurance Contributions.

HMRC’s success rate

56 fugitives have been brought back to the UK, through HMRC investigations, since 2016-17. They have faced prosecution and jail time for defrauding the Tax Office and, by extension, the British people. Increasing numbers of successful prosecutions for tax evasion will hopefully become a deterrent to others.