Criminal gangs smuggling cigarettes who are costing the taxpayer more than £1 billion a year have turned their attention to Leeds-Bradford Airport in an attempt to evade law enforcement agencies.
The global trade in counterfeit tobacco has become so widespread that a quarter of all cigarettes smoked in the region are bootlegged, leaving the vast blackhole in the Treasury’s finances.
The Government is working with HM Revenue and Customs to tackle crime syndicates operating as far afield as China, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Eastern Europe and targeting the UK. The YEP has learnt there is growing evidence of smugglers using flights into Leeds-Bradford Airport and Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster to escape detection as attention is focused on the UK’s major access points such as Heathrow, Stansted and Dover.
Will O’Reilly, a former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector, has carried out research on the extent of the problem in Yorkshire, and said: “It is the scourge of every community, and nowhere is unaffected by the smuggling of illegal cigarettes. It is widely accepted offenders are also responsible for a range of other criminal activity, including the funding of terrorism, smuggling firearms, drugs and people trafficking. The largest number of smuggled cigarettes are found in London and the South-East, and there has been a concerted effort to tackle the problem in the UK’s largest ports and airports. But the criminals are increasingly looking towards provincial airports in an attempt to avoid detection, and are trying to bring in smaller consignments as well.”
An HMRC spokeswoman said: “We continue to work across Government, to further improve our intelligence and ensure the organised criminal gangs are brought to justice.”