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Men must pay PS77k or be jailed.

TWO middle-men in a multi-million pound illegal tobacco ring have been ordered to pay more than PS77,000 or face jail.

A crown court judge passed an order under the Proceeds of Crime Act on Mark Wood and Kenneth Blakeley at a confiscation hearing.

Wood, 57, of Rochdale Road, Middleton, and Blakeley, 61, of Mersey Road, Wigan, were handed suspended prison sentences after an HM Revenue and Customs investigation uncovered their part in a cigarette and tobacco smuggling operation.

Wood was ordered to pay back PS32,808.58 and Blakeley PS45,000.

HMRC said that if they do not settle the payments within three months they will face 14 months and 15 months behind bars respectively - and still owe the money.

A spokesman said both men bought illegal cigarettes from gang leader, Iqbal Haji, 51, to sell on.

Haji, from Blackburn, was jailed for six years in May 2016 for leading the PS16.5m excise duty fraud.

He too faces a further four years in jail unless he pays PS478,693 within three months.

The investigation was codenamed Operation Iceage.

Debbie Porter, assistant director of HMRC's fraud investigation service, said: "Our work doesn't stop at conviction. While these two men were being sentenced, our teams continued in their efforts to secure these funds to finance public services."

CAPTION(S):

Money and, right, illegal tobacco seized in Operation Iceage

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Publication:Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Date:Mar 30, 2018
Words:228
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