Six members of a gang who used high-tech equipment to turn out 24 fake bottles of vodka a minute have been jailed for more than 56 years following a complex international investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
Gang ringleader Harvey Conroy was sentenced to 12 years; Steve Davis, Michael Oliver, and Geoffrey Hall to 10 years; Alan Saunderson to 8 years; and Christopher Hill to 6 1/2 years.
The gang made more than 1.3 million litres of the illegal vodka in a rat infested warehouse in Hackney, East London in an attempt to avoid nearly £16m in duty and VAT. They spent the money on powerful cars, luxury Docklands apartments and lavish holidays in exclusive hotels, including a £4,000 three-day jaunt to Dubai.
Polish workers, brought to the UK solely to work in the warehouses, were housed in filthy on-site accommodation, enabling the gang to run a 24/7 operation.
In North London the gang used sophisticated equipment which produced 9.5 tonnes of counterfeit hand rolling tobacco at the rate of 100 pouches per minute, valued at £800,000 in duty.
The packaging of both the vodka and tobacco was so convincing that the public would have been duped into thinking they were buying the real thing.
HMRC investigators worked closely with European law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Poland and Cyprus to bring the gang to justice. The ethanol used in the Vodka factory came from Eastern Europe and the tobacco was stored in Holland before coming to the UK. Further evidence suggested the counterfeit packaging came from Cyprus.
After sentencing, Simon Grunwell, Assistant Director HMRC Criminal Investigation said:
"HM Revenue & Customs is committed to protecting the public purse from attacks by organised crime gangs trying to steal vast amounts of money. Where we find fraud we will act without delay to bring those responsible to justice."