'Cigarettes scam involved millions'

TWO men from Fylde masterminded a massive international smuggling operation involving millions of cigarettes, a court heard.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 9th June 2010, 5:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th June 2010, 5:05 pm

Preston Crown Court was told how 35-year-old Danish Amin and Darren Cooper, 43, were the ringleaders in a massive operation to bring illegal tobacco products into the UK without paying duty.

Amin's girlfriend Michelle Whittaker, who shared a house with him on Catherine Street, Wesham, is standing trial accused of conspiracy to evade tax duty.

The 30-year-old is alleged to have acted as Amin's secretary and booked and paid for flights for her boyfriend and his co-conspirators to fly from airports across the UK to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

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Fromthere, thegangmade their way over the German border to Emmerich and the factory where they packed up millions of dodgy cigarettes into plastic wheelie bins to be smuggled into the UK, the court was told.

Mark Monaghan, prosecuting, said: "She was the secretary and the prosecution say Danish Amin and Darren Cooper couldn't have organised or run it without her."

The jury heard how a man in Greece organised the cigarettes for the gang who then transported them to Emmerich. Members of the gang there loaded the cargo into bins in a container.

But German colleagues had set up hidden cameras so Lancashire Police could watch a live internet feed in the UK of what was going on at the factory.

Dutch police tapped the gang's phones and informed British officers when the next shipment would take place. When the container was delivered to a warehouse in Manchester, undercover police and customs officers watched as Amin and Cooper went to check on their cargo.

Mr Monaghan added: "We aren't talking about 200 cigarettes being sneaked through the airport, we're talking about literally millions of cigarettes being smuggled into the country in an ordinary lorry."

The defence claim Ms Whittaker acted without knowing her boyfriend was involved in any criminal actions and believed he was in the plant machinery business.

Peter Guest, defending, asked Det Insp Jo Edwards whether Whittaker had been seen meeting co-conspirators with Amin while under surveillance.

The detective confirmed she had not.

Police believe the gang organised at least two and possibly three loads into Britain between June 2008 and April 2009 and avoided duty of 323,102 in the load recovered.

Amin, Cooper of Inner Promenade, Fairhaven, and six other people have previously admitted conspiracy and money laundering charges. Proceeding.