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smokey bandit Man sentenced after being caught with over 380,000 illegal cigarettes

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The illegal cigarettes were concealed in the bags

The illegal cigarettes were concealed in the bags

The illegal cigarettes were concealed in the bags

A 32-year-old man has been sentenced after being caught smuggling thousands of illicit cigarettes into Northern Ireland.

Wang Jie Chen, from Dunluskin Gardens in the seaside town had £20,000 in cash and 15,000 cigarettes when the car he was travelling in was stopped on the East Bread Road in Belfast in 2017.

Track and trace postage numbers were also found in the vehicle.

Chen failed to appear in court on the matter and subsequently an arrest warrant was issued.

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Illegal cigarettes in a rucksack addressed to Chen

Illegal cigarettes in a rucksack addressed to Chen

Illegal cigarettes in a rucksack addressed to Chen

As the HMRC continued their investigations, they intercepted parcels at a Belfast sorting depot and seized 46 packages addressed to Chen, containing 200,000 cigarettes which were hidden inside 270 rucksacks.

When residential premises in Belfast was searched in connection to the cigarettes more evidence of cigarette smuggling was uncovered.

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HMRC began an investigation after track and trace numbers were found in the car Chen was driving in 2017

HMRC began an investigation after track and trace numbers were found in the car Chen was driving in 2017

HMRC began an investigation after track and trace numbers were found in the car Chen was driving in 2017

Chen was apprehended in June of last year and appeared at Belfast Crown Court on December 17, where he pleaded guilty to tax evasion.

He appeared in again at the Crown Court today for sentencing where he was handed an 18 months prison sentence suspended for two years.

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There were over 380,000 cigarettes in total

There were over 380,000 cigarettes in total

There were over 380,000 cigarettes in total

The total number of cigarettes seized during the entire operation was 382,780 and the total value of tax evaded was £186,063.

Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, 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.”

Chen was apprehended in June last year and pleaded guilty in December. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, at Belfast Crown Court on 27 January 2021.

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