TWO brothers have been convicted of trying to smuggle more than 2.6 million cigarettes through Portsmouth Ferry Port.
Michael and Martin Pratt were caught red-handed as they tried to bring the knock-off Lambert & Butlers into the UK without paying the £500,000 duty.
The haul, which is one of the biggest to be seized at Portsmouth, was hidden in specially-made boxes designed as wooden flooring.
The Pratts were arrested when they arrived in Portsmouth.
Twelve days earlier Michael Pratt, 43, and Martin Pratt, 39, who are directors of Premium Freight Services Ltd (PFS) in Staffordshire, drove to Spain to pick up the cigarettes.
They flew back to England, while the 2,685,000 cigarettes were loaded, and returned to Spain a couple of days later to pick up the lorry and drive it back to Bilbao.
The lorry was stopped and searched by customs officers at Portsmouth on October 29, 2005, and the stash of cigarettes was discovered.
Investigators found that the operation had been organised by Peter Hudson – who also worked for PFS. Hudson arranged all the paperwork and provided the money.
The brothers claimed they knew nothing about the cigarettes and were unable to tell investigators where they had left the lorry or picked it up from.
Meanwhile, Hudson, 41, claimed a flooring company had approached him and asked PFS to transport the wooden flooring back from Spain to the UK.
At Portsmouth Crown Court a jury took seven hours to convict Hudson, of Lynne Lane, Lichfield, of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of duty.
An hour later the jury found the Pratts, of Wolverson Road, Walsall, guilty of the same offence. All three had denied the charge.
The three men were remanded in custody and will be sentenced next month when they face lengthy prison terms.
Tim Fleming, a senior investigation officer for HM Revenue and Customs, said: ‘Smuggling cigarettes is not a harmless tax fiddle. It cheats the government of revenue which can be used to fund public services, such as schools and hospitals.
‘We will not hesitate to take action against those smuggling cigarettes into the country.
‘This verdict will serve as a deterrent to others. It is an excellent result for all honest traders who have to compete against the black market.’
Chinese begin to wake up to the dangers of tobacco
China’s tobacco and Smokeless nicotine industry boasts that it contributes as much as 60 percent of the country’s total consumption tax, but people are beginning to wake up to the real cost of smoking and the harm the industry does to national health.
A report released by the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University at the end of last year put the direct cost of smoking in China, including smoking-induced diseases, at 166.56 billion yuan in 2005, and the indirect cost — losses due to work delays, passive smoking, fires, environmental pollution and early death — at about 86.11-120.5 billion yuan.
Taken together, the figures exceed the tobacco industry’s total revenue of 240 billion yuan for that year as declared by the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration. This means that the industry costs the country more than it makes. The tobacco monopoly may be making handsome profits but the country as a whole is burning up its money and turning it to ashes.
The country’s consumption tax on tobacco grew by 14.3 percent over the previous year as sales revenue built on expanding production and dwindling stocks.
Cigarettes sold in China can be priced as low as two yuan a pack, or as high as 2,500 yuan a pack. A migrant worker may choose a brand priced at around two yuan a pack. An urban office worker with a monthly income of 4000 yuan may spend 200 yuan every month to buy cigarettes priced at around 10 yuan a pack.
As the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco, the country’s 350 million smokers, including 50 million teenagers, consume a third of the world’s total cigarettes annually.
Smoking is among the main causes of many chronic diseases in China, says Kong Lingzhi, vice director general of the disease control department under the Ministry of Health. About 700,000 people die every year of smoking-induced diseases in China.
Although China levies heavy taxes on the tobacco industry, little is spent on publicizing the harm of smoking or on the treatment of smoking-induced diseases. Some local governments are tempted by the high tax revenue from the tobacco industry to acquiesce in advertising.
Despite the fact that “No Smoking” signs hang in many public places like trains, more and more youngsters are becoming smokers, and people are constantly targeted by disguised tobacco advertisements and snapshots of smoking popping up on TV or in films.
Furthermore, China’s monopoly cigarettes companies see little reason to innovate technologically to reduce the harm of cigarettes — no one is threatening them and standards are relatively lax.
In China, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and China Tobacco Corporation monopolize the tobacco industry and manage the nationwide production, sales, import and export of tobacco. Companies engaged in the tobacco business need to get a license from the authority.
Smoking claimed nearly one million people’s lives in 2000, accounting for 12 percent of the year’s total deaths. Without further control measures on smoking, the ratio will rise to 33 percent by 2020 with the death toll reaching two million, Kong Lingzhi warned.