Three cleared of cigarette smuggling

A TRIO of businessmen have been cleared of flooding the country with millions of illegal cigarettes, smuggled through worldwide ports including the Felixstowe and Ipswich.

By Jessica Nicholls

A TRIO of businessmen have been cleared of flooding the country with millions of illegal cigarettes, smuggled through worldwide ports including the Felixstowe and Ipswich.

Following a trial at Basildon Crown Court, a jury found Benham Qajar Alagha, Ronald Brennan and Michael Philips not guilty of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue.

They had been arrested in 2001, after a huge sting mounted by 50 Ipswich-based Customs officers, and accused of being behind one of the biggest cigarette smuggling scams ever discovered in Britain. The trial started back in May 2002 at Ipswich Crown Court.

Alagha, 57, wept loudly in the dock as the verdict was announced.

The jury who reached a verdict with a majority of ten or more had taken a total of ten hours and 45 minutes to come to their decision.

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As Brennan, 71, from Chislehurst, Kent and Philips left the court, they waved their thanks to jury members.

With tears in his eyes, Mr Philips from West Moors, Dorset said: "It has been a terrible two and a half years and I want to say thank you to all those people (the jury)."

But in an added twist, Alagha, who claims to be the great grandson of the former Shah of Persia was sentenced to two months in jail for contempt of court.

Judge Zoe Smith decided at the case yesterday that Alagha of Epsom, Surrey was in breach of bail conditions which required him to reside and sleep in London. He had been arrested at Heathrow airport on Sunday, with a ticket to Dublin.

Alagha claimed he had been intending to fly to Glasgow to meet some people who would be able to aid his court case, but at the last minute the meeting had been changed to Belfast and the quickest way he could get there was via Dublin.

Although he had a large suitcase of clothes with him, Alagha claimed it had been packed for over a month, and as the place he was staying at in London was extremely small he wanted to take them elsewhere.

But Judge Smith said that as he had Euros with him, a ticket to Dublin and a large suitcase it was clear he intended to leave the UK and was therefore in contempt of court.

She sentenced him to two months in prison and he was given a £500 fine.

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