By Marcus Leach

A criminal gang who set up a factory potentially capable of making up to 625 million counterfeit cigarettes and five million pouches of fake hand rolling tobacco a year were jailed on Tuesday.

The plot, worth over £131 million per annum in lost revenue, was foiled when HM Revenue & Customs criminal investigators swooped and closed down the fully equipped cigarette factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, before it went into production. During the raid in September 2009 they discovered that the gang were also planning to expand into making counterfeit alcohol.

In two co-ordinated searches at the gang’s other industrial units in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, and a barn at Top Farm, Laxton, Newark, Nottinghamshire, the investigators also seized:

Cigarette manufacturing equipment destined for another criminal gang, capable of producing a potential 750 million cigarettes a year with an annual revenue loss of over £141 million, from Blidworth, and
A five tonne tobacco cutting machine to process the tobacco to make counterfeit hand rolling tobacco and cigarettes, from Laxton.

“This was organised crime on an industrial scale," Gary Lampon, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said.

"The gang planned to launch a UK production facility, manufacturing counterfeit tobacco goods by the million. We had previously seized 1.25 million illegal cigarettes from them, so in the belief that they could make a bigger profit, they decided to make their own.

"This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”

His Honour Judge Jonathon Teare said “the potential loss of revenue was substantial; the project was grand with a series of plans set to evade duty and make millions”. On sentencing Robinson, he said, “your expectations were high and if you had succeeded you would be a millionaire by now and the public purse very much depleted”.

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