Cigarette smugglers jailed

SIX racketeers are serving sentences totalling nearly 17 years today after Ipswich customs officers smashed a cigarette smuggling ring.Although they were not the masterminds behind the multi-million pound international plot, Safina Gaffar and her husband Asif were the linchpins at the British end of the scam.

SIX racketeers are serving sentences totalling nearly 17 years today after Ipswich customs officers smashed a cigarette smuggling ring.

Although they were not the masterminds behind the multi-million pound international plot, Safina Gaffar and her husband Asif were the linchpins at the British end of the scam.

Safina Gaffar, 41, of Thornton Heath, Surrey, was jailed for six years by Judge Peter Thompson at Ipswich Crown Court, while Asif, 42, was given four-and-a-half years.

Two of their accomplices Burchell 'Peter' Bernard, 41, and Michael Smith, 28, both of Croydon, Surrey, were sentenced to two-and-a-half years and 18 months respectively.

During the six-month operation mounted by customs, Bernard and Smith were caught on two separate occasions as they helped smuggle in consignments of counterfeit cigarettes through Felixstowe.

The remaining two people sentenced for their part in the black market scam were Martyn Baxter, 25, of New Addington, Surrey, and David Richards, 43, of Swanley, Kent. Both were given 12 months in prison.

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A seventh man, Jason Manning, 30, is due to be sentenced next Thursday at Ipswich Crown Court. He is already serving eight years in HM Prison, Norwich, for burglary with an imitation firearm, an offence committed last year.

All bar Safina Gaffar and Manning, who were convicted last month of conspiracy to defraud the government by attempting to smuggle 18m cigarettes into Britain via Suffolk, admitted their part in the plot.

In addition to the sentences meted out to the cartel, it is likely HM Customs will pursue a confiscation hearing later this year in a bid to seize assets from the gang which are deemed to be proceeds of crime.

HOW THEY WERE CAUGHT (panel)

Customs officers finally smashed the smuggling ring after 13 separate containers importing plastic articles, including ironing boards, from China arrived at Felixstowe docks between November 2002 and January 2004.

A sting, codenamed Operation Waltzer, set up by officers, discovered 12 of the containers went to Leicester, while the final one was sent to an address in Bolton.

Speaking after last month's trial, Jim Jarvie, Ipswich-based assistant chief investigation officer for HM Customs in the eastern region, said: "This was a large-scale smuggling operation.

"The people who buy fake cigarettes need to realise that the criminal gangs they support by buying these sub-standard goods deal not only in cigarettes but in all sorts of criminal activity. They also need to realise that these cigarettes contain greater quantities of harmful products than legitimate products.

That includes more tar, more nicotine and more carbon monoxide than genuine cigarettes. Smoking fake cigarettes might be cheaper, but it's also more dangerous."

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