£15m illegal alcohol gang jailed

A criminal gang that ran a £15 million illicit alcohol operation in the UK has been jailed for a total of 19 years after being caught with piles of ‘dirty’ cash.

Bundles of cash were found in the car and in a holdall of two of the defendants (Photo: HMRC)

Bundles of cash were found in a car and in a holdall belonging to two of the defendants (Photo: HMRC)

The gang, which operated out of the south-east of England, laundered millions from illegal alcohol sales in Britain through sham companies that pretended to be legitimate drinks exporters.

Two of the gang’s ringleaders, who along with two others were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday (22 April), were found with hundreds of thousands of pounds of cash when they were first picked up by police in 2011.

Tax inspectors investigating the case found that two companies, Eurolink Trading Ltd and Saffire Ltd, had faked documents to say the millions of pounds of income they had received came from selling alcohol to importers in France.

Instead, Eurolink and Saffire were buying alcohol from a UK supplier and selling it on without paying duty or VAT.

The supplier, York Wines Ltd based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, has since ceased trading.

Between 1 November 2010 and 3 February 2012, £15 million was passed from the two bogus traders to York Wines – all proceeds from fraudulent sales in Britain.

It is illegal to take alcohol out of bonded storage and sell it in the UK without paying duty or VAT. The gang faked documents to suggest it was moving alcohol in-bond to French companies.

Louca Christos Louca, from Kent, company director of Ramsgate based Eurolink Trading Ltd, was arrested on 24 October 2011 after investigators discovered almost £100,000 cash inside his car.

The following day Gary Bissenden, also from Kent and Lucy Buckingham, 30, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, were arrested in an East Grinstead car park.

Bissenden was carrying a holdall containing nearly £160,000 in cash. A further £17,750 and 11,000 euros were found at his then home in Herne Bay, Kent.

Lucy Buckingham faked documents to help launder the money. She worked for Saffire Trading Ltd of East Grinstead – a company run by Steve Randall, 44, from Romford, Essex.

All four defendants were charged with proceeds of crime offences linked to alcohol fraud. They were found guilty after an eight-week trial and were jailed for a total of 19 years.

Louca, 51, of Park Avenue, Broadstairs, Kent, was jailed for seven years and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.

Randall, 44, of Glenton Close, Romford, Essex, was jailed for six years and disqualified from being a company director for six years.

Bissenden, 50, of Dence Park, Herne Bay, Kent, a forklift truck driver, was jailed for three years. He collected the proceeds of illicit alcohol sales in the UK and delivered the cash to Saffire Trading Ltd and Eurolink Trading Ltd.

Buckingham, 31, of Cranston Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, was jailed for three years and disqualified from being a company director for five years.

A fifth defendant was found not guilty.

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