Embassy Worker Jailed For His Part In £4.8m Tobacco Fraud

Colliers Wood man worked at the Gambian embassy

A Ghanian embassy worker from Colliers Wood has been jailed for his part in a £4.8m tobacco fraud.

Hasaintu Noah, aged 60, from North Road, was sentenced to three years after being found guilty - with six others - of illegally selling 26 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco.

Yusupha Bojang, 54, Gaston Sambou, 39, Georgina Gomez, 30, Ebrima John, 38, Veerahia Ramarajaha, 54, and Audrey Leeward, 49, all worked at the Gambian Diplomatic Mission in London.

Southwark Crown court heard that they abused diplomatic privileges by purchasing large quantities of tobacco tax-free from specialist duty free sales companies International Diplomatic Supplies and Chacalli De Decker.

The group then sold the tobacco on the black market at a profit, without accounting for tax or duty. They established a network for selling the tobacco to members of the Gambian community in London.

HMCR investigators found that the fraud had taken place for a number of years and the investigation focused on sales and purchases between 2009 and 2012.

Embassy rules allow diplomats to legitimately buy tobacco free from Excise Duty and VAT for personal use, but they are not allowed to sell it on. Four of the accused - Bojang, Sambou, Gomez and John - were all diplomats. The Gambian government waived their diplomatic immunity.

Martin Brown, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said: "Diplomats are allowed duty free goods for their personal use but the systems works on trust. These individuals abused that trust by selling vast amounts of hand rolling tobacco on the black market, thinking they were beyond the reach of the law – they were wrong.

"Investigators found an established supply network for the tobacco had been built up over a number of years. 

"Excise evasion is a serious offence and, as this case shows, HMRC will not hesitate to take action where we find evidence of fraud."

The gang were jailed for between three and seven years for conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. Ramarajaha, from Tooting, was additionally found guilty of dealing/harbouring/concealing/carrying dutiable goods.

December 15, 2014