Masterminds behind a £10million fraud which saw the UK’s largest illegal tobacco factory produce 140 packs of cigarettes a minute have been jailed.
John Watson Snr, 47, who was a director of Doncaster Greyhound stadium, Terence Jacques, 60, and security guard Russell Haywood, 48, led a 12-man gang who made millions of counterfeit cigarettes which were distributed across the North of England.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) carried out coordinated raids at properties linked to the men in County Durham and South Yorkshire in November 2015.
Officers discovered the largest tobacco factory ever encountered by HMRC inside a farm unit in Crook, County Durham.
Masterminds behind a £10million fraud which saw the UK’s largest illegal tobacco factory in County Durham (pictured) produce 140 packs of cigarettes a minute have been jailed
The factory had more than 24 tonnes of tobacco inside, along with 500,000 cigarettes, old imperial tobacco machinery and products used to make the cigarettes.
Officers also discovered caravans that were being used by the factory workforce.
The cigarettes produced at the factory were moved to a nearby garden centre, before being distributed to locations in the North East and South Yorkshire.
Watson Snr said he earned less than £15,000 a year at the time, but investigators discovered he had spent more than £180,000 on luxury cars and a holiday.
Today, 10 members of the gang were sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court.
Aleksandras Seremetjevas, 35, and Mindaugus Aleksandravicius, 47, will be sentenced at the same court on April 2.
Eden Noblett, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: ‘This was a highly sophisticated and well organised illegal operation, which put millions of counterfeit cigarettes on the streets of the UK.
John Watson Snr, Terence Jacques and Russell Haywood, 48, led a 12-man gang that made millions of counterfeit cigarettes which were distributed across the North of England (Pictured: Machinery found inside the factory)
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) carried out coordinated raids at properties linked to the men in County Durham and South Yorkshire in November 2015
‘The illegal tobacco factory was the largest HMRC has ever found, and was capable of producing commercial quantities of cigarettes. The weight of the tobacco found at the factory was equivalent to two London double decker buses.
‘Trade in illegal tobacco undermines legitimate traders, including small, independent shops that serve local communities, and takes funding away from our vital public services.
‘We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.’
Seven of the men admitted excise fraud at separate hearings at Leeds and Sheffield Crown Court in 2019.
The remaining five men were found guilty of excise fraud on 10 and 11 February following a trial at Sheffield Crown Court.
In total, HMRC seized cigarettes, tobacco and associated paraphernalia capable of evading more than £10 million in duty.
Proceedings are underway to recover the unpaid duty.
Watson Snr and his right-hand man, Jacques, were responsible for setting up and running the tobacco factory, whilst Haywood managed distribution of the cigarettes across the North of England.
Seremetjevas and Aleksandravicius oversaw the day-to-day running of the factory, recruited factory workers and arranged movement of cigarettes to a unit at the Stanley Garden Centre, in Crook.