HMRCHMRC

There are plenty of things that spring to mind when we think of smuggling: alcohol and tobacco maybe, or drugs and firearms. But surely not garlic.

But it turns out that garlic smuggling is big business, and one man has just been jailed for six years after evading an estimated £2 million in customs duty over illicit garlic imports. So how was he caught, and what are the consequences?


Garlic

The smuggler claimed to be importing fresh ginger from China, which doesn't attract duty. However, HMRC investigators spotted that the containers that were being used to transport the goods were the wrong temperature for ginger - but perfect for garlic.

On further inspection, UK Border Agency officers found over 7,000 tons of garlic - which would attract £9,000 in duty.

According to shipping records, Murugasan Natarajan, of West Drayton, 57, who owned the London-based Perfect Imports & Exports Ltd, and his assistant, Lakshmi Suresh, 28, had stopped declaring the import of garlic, and started declaring the import of five times as much as fresh ginger as before. All were kept at the right temperature for garlic.

During a search of Natarajan's property, almost £150,000 in cash was seized under the proceeds of crime act.

Sentenced

Natarajan was arrested in April 2011, and was tried in his absence after failing to surrender to bail. In sentencing, his Honour Judge Worsley QC said he had played a leading role from the outset, describing the fraud as being "sophisticated, persistent and prolonged".

Suresh of Hayes, pleaded guilty to her role in the fraud and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £10,000 compensation to HMRC

Peter Millroy, Assistant Director of HMRC Criminal Investigation, said: "The penalty imposed on Natarajan is the longest sentence in the UK in recent years for the evasion of customs duty. Over 100 containers were identified where there were strong grounds to believe that the contents had either been understated or wrongly described."

Fair?

Just to put that into perspective. Also this month we have seen a gang member jailed for three years - for attempting to evade £1.5 million in Duty by smuggling cigarettes hidden in furniture. We have also seen an international arms dealer sentenced to seven years for supplying 80,000 weapons and 32 million rounds of ammunition from China to Nigeria.

But what do you think? Is the smuggling of garlic clearly worse than these other crimes? Let us know in the comments.



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