18,000 wine bottles seized in Customs raids

18,000 bottles of wine were seized

18,000 bottles of wine were seized

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A judge has ordered 18,000 bottles of wine to be poured down the drain.

She imposed a condemnation order on the vast quantity of alcohol after being told the bottles had been seized in raids carried out by Customs officers.

Officials simultaneously entered warehouses in Bristol Avenue, Bispham and Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire owned by alcohol wholesalers A.G.Peters, which supplies high street outlets across the UK. A total of 1,100 cases were seized from the Blackpool warehouse.

The officers suspected there had been large scale evasion of the £2 duty which must be paid on each bottle.

Today customs officers will begin the long task of pouring away £155,000 of drink.

District Judge Pam Baldwin, sitting at Blackpool Magistrates, agreed to the appplication for the condemnation order of the 18,000 bottles of white and red wines such as Paul Masson, Echo Falls, Blossom Hill, Hardy’s and J.P. Chenet asked for by HM Customs and Excise.

The judge heard how in the raid at Cleckheaton a sealed pallet of Californian wine cases was found.

Checks revealed that duty had been paid on the wine when it was imported into the UK.

However, when it was re exported to Holland the duty was repaid by the Government under a system called “drawback”.

Stickers on the pallet revealed that the duty had been repaid. However, the pallet had returned mysteriously re-appeared in Britain where it was due to be marketed.

The court was told that A.G.Peters sold 15,000 cases of wine a week and the seizure involved £155,000 of red, white and rose wines.

Customs and Excise had been involved in a long term investigation into tax evasion on imported wines.It revealed that imported consignments could be handled by up to five wine brokers before it went on public sale.

Each broker would claim that someone else in the chain had paid the duty, however, paperwork did not exist and in the case of A.G.Peters two of its suppliers had disappeared.

When customs officers examined invoices it revealed that some popular wines were valued at £2.40 a time to the wholesaler.

When the £2 duty was removed the investigators believed the company could not be operating profitably, taking into the costs of staff and transportation.

Therefore they concluded duty must have been evaded.

Stephen Fraser, managing director of A.G.Peters, denied this and told the hearing: “We sell 15,000 cases of wine a week. I need a quick turnaround on stock.

“I don’t want stock on the warehouse floor for more than a fortnight.

“I don’t know where this pallet of wine came from - it should not have been there if it was drawback.

“I did my due dilgence checks on my suppliers and had no reason to think duty of the wine we handle had not been paid.”

Giving her judgement. the judge said: “I am happy the HMRC were reasonable in their suspicion the wine chain and duty on some if not all was being evaded.

“Therefore I allow the seized good to be condemned.”

A.G.Peters must pay court costs of £4,756. The company did not respond to a request for comment.