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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK


UK

Jail for duty-free scam gang

Sixteen lorry loads of whisky were involved in the scam

The man behind Scotland's biggest duty-free drink scam has been jailed for six years.

Sohan Singh was at the centre of a fraudulent operation involving enough whisky and vodka to give every adult in Scotland two drinks each.

Singh, 46, from Bishopbriggs, was found guilty of defrauding the country of 1.6m in duty on 16 lorry loads of whisky over a 10-week period.

Customs investigators who brought him to justice reckoned the scam involved duty on more than eight million pub measures of whisky and vodka.


[ image: The drink was hidden at secret locations]
The drink was hidden at secret locations
Sentenced with Singh at the High Court in Glasgow were two co-accused, James Sanderson, 43, and Craig McAteer, 29.

Sanderson, from Nitshill in Glasgow, was found guilty of evading 399,000 in duty, and McAteer, from Motherwell, of evading 376,000 in duty.

They were jailed for three years and 30 months respectively.

The case against a fourth man - spirits broker Kevin Burrage, 36, of Shoeburyness near Southend - was found not proven.

Another accused, Anthony Sawers, 31, from Hamilton, also walked free from court.

Scam details

During the trial, the court heard how a series of phoney liquor exporting firms were set up to further the scam.

Fake orders for drink were faxed to a London bond. Once paid for - free of duty - the drink was supposed to be exported to Germany, France, Italy and Denmark and Spain.

But instead the consignments were driven to Scotland and hidden at secret storage places in Coatbridge, West Calder, Livingstone, Wishaw, Bannockburn, and Glasgow.

Lonely farmhouses were also used by the gang. From there, cheap drink was sold in under-the-counter deals to off-licences all over the central belt and distributed in hired vans.

Customs and Excise was so concerned at losses of duty and VAT in the west of Scotland that its elite National Investigation Service moved in.

Surveillance operation

The Customs officers secretly took photographs of the participants and the handover of drink to the buyers.

They watched off-sales owners drive away with so much whisky and vodka that their cars and vans were down on their springs.

On 11 March, 250 Customs officers swooped on 65 premises throughout the UK.

Singh and his gang were arrested and charged, and spirits they had not yet sold - worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in duty - were seized.

More than 40,000 in cash was ordered to be confiscated by the court.

After the trial, Singh was notified of the Crown's intention to seize his assets.

Sentencing Singh, Lord Phillip told him: "You were in overall control in Scotland of a wide-ranging, carefully planned and efficiently run operation designed to defraud the state and you were making large profits."



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