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DUTY FREED ..SUBH Curry king is cleared of dodging pounds 1.6m tax on booze.

Byline: By JAMES OLIVER

A CURRY shop boss jailed over Scotland's biggest duty-free fraud has been cleared after the Customs operation against him collapsed in chaos.

Sohan Singh, 51, was jailed for six years after being convicted of dodging pounds 1.6million of tax due on lorry-loads of booze in one ten-week period.

But he has been cleared after serious flaws were revealed in the Customs operation.

Singh, who runs the Bombay Blue curry house in Glasgow, spent just 10 months in jail after being convicted along with James Sanderson, who got three years, and Craig McAteer, who got two and a half.

They stood trial in 1999 after undercover Customs officers claimed they sold 16 lorryloads of whisky - meant to be sent abroad duty-free - on the British black market. Customs claimed the staggering haul was enough to give every adult in Scotland two duty-free drinks.

But the cleared Scots are just some of the prosecutions that have collapsed in the wake of the Customs operation.

Up to pounds 2billion was lost in unpaid taxes during the sting operation, centred on a tax-free warehouse called the London City Bond.

Customs allowed the fraud to continue in the hope of catching Mr Bigs but the cases have collapsed since their informant was exposed as a main player in the scam.

Singh was released pending his appeal in March 2000.

Last night he said: 'My lawyers appealed against my conviction and my sentence.

'At that time we didn't know anything about what the Customs had been doing.

'That didn't come out until a court case in Manchester about six months after I had been released.

'The prosecution were in no hurry for the appeal to go ahead but they eventually had to admit that I was not guilty. My conviction was quashed last year.

'That means that everything has been scratched from my record. I am completely clear.'

Singh says he is not interested in suing and says compensation is not important.

He said: 'I am very lucky that I don't have any problems or high blood pressure, despite everything that has happened.

'I don't need the money. If I got pounds 50,000 or pounds 100,000 then so what?

'My children are happy, they are getting a good education and that is far more important to me than compensation.'

Singh was alleged to have been making pounds 40,000 profit on every lorry-load, selling the booze on for between pounds 4 and pounds 5 a bottle. On March 11, 1998, Customs officers 'knocked' the operation.

More than 250 officers from Scotland and England arrested 21 suspects and executed 55 search warrants.

False

More than 2500 cases of spirits were seized to add to 4400 cases that had been impounded.

Officers also found documents at the LCB showing that at least 15 lorry-loads traced to Scotland had gone overseas. A dozen export forms had false foreign stamps.

During his trial, it was revealed that Singh had been a target for some kind of vengeance over a deal which went wrong.

In July 1998, while he was on bail, three hooded men walked into his office and systematically clubbed him with baseball bats, breaking both of his legs.

Singh's sentence was a year short of the maximum possible.

The judge Lord Phillip told Singh: 'You were in control in Scotland of a carefully-planned and efficiently-run operation designed to defraud the state and you were making huge profits.'

In 2000, Singh was released pending his appeal and when it eventually came to court, in June last year, the Crown told the court that they would not be resisting the appeals. Singh and McAteer walked free.

Hitman

McAteer, one of Singh's alleged lieutenants, was the best friend of murdered drug dealer Justin McAlroy, shot dead after attending a Labour Party fundraiser at his dad's club.

Hitman William 'Tiler' Gage was convicted of McAlroy's execution last year but the man who paid him has never been caught.

CAPTION(S):

No claims: Sohan Singh says he won't be asking for compensation Stash: An officer with seized drink
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Article Details
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 10, 2005
Words:681
Previous Article:Police to probe Customs fiasco.
Next Article:DUTY FREED; Curry king is cleared of dodging pounds 1.6m tax on booze.


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