A Manchester man is now on the taxman’s Most Wanted list – after costing the British public more than £2.2million.
Ahmed Salim Khezri was handed a six-year prison sentence in April along with the rest of the organised gang he was a part of after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers smashed their £28million cigarette smuggling conspiracy.
But the Iranian, 24, was found guilty of conspiracy to evade excise duty in his absence and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
Jo Tyler, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said at the time: “These men were making substantial criminal profits at the expense of the taxpayer and, by feeding the black market, were depriving honest retailers of the chance to earn a living.
“But, they were lazy when it came to clearing up after themselves, leaving evidence behind that proved their involvement in this crime.
“Cigarette smuggling is a serious criminal offence and these sentences reflect that. HMRC is committed to identifying and bringing to justice those who are involved in this type of crime.”
The seven-strong gang were jailed for a combined 24 years with ringleader Kamaran Khader jailed for six years for his role in planning the criminal operation sourcing the cigarettes and tobacco and arranging their delivery.
The gang imported low grade and counterfeit tobacco, which was then sold across northern England and Scotland.
They were tracked down with the help of fingerprints and DNA found on discarded cans and bottles at sites where they had been transferring loads of cigarettes.
Once in the UK, the goods were transported to industrial storage sites in Blackburn, Oldham, Essex, Ascot and Slough.
“Khader and his gang were heavily involved in the importation and supply of illegal cigarettes,” said Assistant Director Tyler.
Sirwan Hassan and Ari Mohammed Rahimi were each sentenced to five years in prison for their part in the crime while Khalim Khan, Waleed Mohyi and Domink Kamusinski were handed eight month terms.
The group came to the attention of HMRC in 2010 after officers found 390,000 cigarettes inside a Ford Transit van and a further 780,000 cigarettes hidden between sheets of insulation at an address in Blackburn.
The gang were also linked to a seizure of 840,000 Jin Ling cigarettes in September 2011 in Oldham and a shipment of nine million Golden Eagle cigarettes which arrived in Southampton in April 2012.
HMRC officers began to track the gang and observed a meeting between five of them in Essex in May 2012. They followed them to a local storage unit and discovered a further 1.4million illegal cigarettes and a plastic carrier bag containing £84,400 in cash.
In January 2013 HMRC officers intercepted a van containing 270,000 cigarettes at an industrial unit in Ascot and in January 2013 they found 1.8million duty free cigarettes at a site in Slough.
The men were jailed at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday April 10 and Friday April 11 by His Honour Judge Mansell QC.
But the search continues for Khezri, who was added to the tax office’s hitlist today along with fellow tax cheats Paul Edwards, Norbert Dombo, Murugasan Natarajan and Mohammed Kasim Farook.
The HMRC Most Wanted List contains 40 of the most prolific tax cheats in the UK in a bid to track them down.
People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post here.