A Ballymena shopkeeper, who hid illicit tobacco under the floor boards of his store and thousands of pounds of cash in his shoes, has been sentenced for excise fraud.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators linked David McCullough, (71), of Old Antrim Road to a number of illicit tobacco seizures made in the Ballymena area over a two year period.
In December 2014 HMRC officers searched his then shop in Linenhall Street and seized a quantity of cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco (HRT).
Later that month, PSNI officers searching a garage in the Ballymena area found a large quantity of tobacco products, which were then seized by HMRC. Investigations revealed that McCullough was renting the garage for storage.
In July 2016 during a further search of McCullough’s shop and home, more illicit tobacco products were found as well as £18,000 in cash – which included thousands hidden in McCullough’s shoes.
In total 520,000 cigarettes and 75 kg of hand-rolling tobacco, worth £174,000 in lost duty and taxes were seized.
Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “What McCullough did is theft, he was stealing from the taxpayer and also undermining legitimate, honest traders.
“Money that should have been funding our public services was lining his pocket and he’s now paying the price.
“HMRC continues to work to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco, which costs the UK around £2.5 billion a year. Anyone with information about tobacco smuggling should call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
McCullough was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for one year, when he appeared at Antrim Crown Court today. He was also ordered to pay £183,099 within 42 days.
The court ordered that the cigarettes and tobacco be forfeited and destroyed.
He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to the fraudulent evasion of Excise Duty contrary to Section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
Since 2000, revenue officials have reduced the illicit market in cigarettes by more than a third.
In the last two financial years alone, over 3.1 billion illicit cigarettes and over 600 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized resulting in over 800 prosecutions across the UK.
HMRC can also levy civil penalties on anyone handling, using or supplying non-duty paid tobacco or alcohol products.
The HMRC say suspected tax fraud can be reported to the HMRC Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.