Northern Ireland news

Five sentenced over £16 million tobacco fraud in Northern Ireland

More than half a million illegal cigarettes and almost 140kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized

FIVE men from Northern Ireland have been sentenced over a £16 million tobacco fraud.

More than half a million illegal cigarettes and almost 140kg of hand-rolling tobacco worth an estimated £210,000 in duty were seized in 2016 following searches in counties Derry and Tyrone.

Officers also recovered £37,385 and €3,025 in cash, including stashes inside vehicles and in wardrobes at two properties.

The long-running case concluded last week with the sentencing of the final defendant at Dungannon Crown Court.

Arthur James Fearon (73), of The Village, Jonesborough, Co Armagh, and his nephew Miceal James Fearon (28), of Carrickbroad Road, Killeavy, Newry, admitted tax evasion.

Patrick Martin Higgins, (67), of Greenvale Park, Magherafelt, admitted tax evasion and possessing criminal property.

All three were last year given suspended jail sentences.

Two other men – Thomas John Mullan (77) and his son Thomas Paul Mullan (50), both of Moss Road, Coagh, Cookstown – pleaded guilty to tax evasion and possessing criminal property.

Mullan Snr last year received a conditional discharge, while his son last week was given a suspended prison sentence.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said the Fearons were making a delivery to Higgins in 2016 when officers arrived.

It said Higgins was selling tobacco across the north while the Mullans' property was being used by Higgins to store his products.

Steve Tracey, assistant director of HMRC's fraud investigation service, said trade in illegal tobacco undermines legitimate businesses and takes funding away from public services.

"That's why disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market," he said.

He urged anyone with information about this type of crime to contact HMRC online or via its fraud hotline on 0800 788 887.

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