Little silver book brought down £16m tobacco tax fraudsters

A silver notebook helped HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) smash a North West illegal cigarette network that evaded more than £16 million in tax.

Nine members of the criminal network have now been jailed for a total of nearly 22 years after the last one, John Swanick, was today sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars.

HMRC can now reveal the full extent of the criminal ring, how they operated and how they were brought to justice.

The silver dealer book belonged to Iqbal Haji. He was the ringleader, playing the key role in the distribution of more than 44 million illegal cigarettes and38,000kg of hand rolling tobacco across the North West of England.

When officers searched his Blackburn home, in September 2014, they found more than £100,000 in criminal cash, including £48,000 hidden inside a freezer drawer containing chicken nuggets and £19,000 in his pillowcase.

They also discovered meticulous records of his illegal trade in a second dealer book that helped provehow the network evaded more than £16 million of duty between 2010 and 2014.

Haji was jailed for six years in 2016 while eight of his customers have now been handed immediate and suspended sentences totalling 15 years and seven months and ordered to repay more than £731,000.

The last customer to be sentenced, John Swanick, 63, ofWeaste Avenue, Little Hulton, Manchester, was jailed today at Manchester Crown Court.

Swanick evaded more than £319,000 in taxes and pleaded guilty to two counts of evading excise duty. Haji’s dealer booksshowed he bought illegal tobacco from him on 127 different occasions between 2011 and 2014.

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Iqbal Haji is a greedy, arrogant criminal who hid behind a veil of respectability while orchestrating an organised, sustained and despicable attack on the public purse.

“His notebooks were like gold dust. They provided a detailed record of how this criminal conspiracy peddled cut-price, illegal cigarettes at the expense of legitimate traders and the UK taxpayer.

“We are determined to create a level playing field for local businesses, by disrupting the trade in illegal cigarettes. Criminal networks like this steal money that should be spent on our schools and hospitals.

“Anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco can report it to us online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Information about any type of tax fraud can also be reported to HMRC online at

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