Jail terms for cigarette smugglers

A RACKETEERING gang of illegal immigrants who targeted Felixstowe in a multi-million pound smuggling plot are behind bars today.

A RACKETEERING gang of illegal immigrants who targeted Felixstowe in a multi-million pound smuggling plot are behind bars today.

The four Chinese nationals received a total of ten years in jail after undercover customs officers foiled their cigarette and tobacco operation, which evaded �2.6 million in tax.

Wei He Guan, 39, of Haringey, London, was sentenced to four years as one of the ringleaders of the gang, along with Hui Qing Chen, 38, of Wood Green, London, who received a three-year prison term.

Guan's wife Qing Ping Xye, 37, and Zhi Qiang Weng, 34, of East Ham, London, got 18 months in jail for their roles.

All pleaded guilty to their parts in the smuggling operation when they appeared at Wood Green Crown Court.

Over the course of 14 months they illegally imported more than 15 million counterfeit cigarettes and nearly 2.5 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco from China.

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A further 336,000 counterfeit cigarettes were imported in containers through Southampton docks in December 2007 and Felixstowe docks in January 2008 in consignments described as 'chairs'.

During an operation, codenamed Tenai, customs officers also seized 28,000 counterfeit Golden Virginia and cellophane pouches at Heathrow airport. The gang used the express parcel system to run their operation.

Guan and Chen imported the tobacco goods and arranged their distribution in the UK by recruiting couriers.

Chen would stop postal delivery staff, intercepting the parcels being sent illegally to legitimate addresses.

Weng acted as one of the key couriers, transporting and distributing parcels around players further down the chain.

Xye received delivery from the couriers and helped Weng, Chen and Guan unloaded parcels into her home address.

The operation also saw the production of the counterfeit tobacco pouches.