News story

Diplomats jailed for £4.8m tobacco fraud

Seven people, including 4 diplomats at the Gambian Embassy, have been jailed for a total of 33 years for illegally selling tobacco on the illicit market.

Yusupha Bojang (54), Gaston Sambou (39), Georgina Gomez (30), Ebrima John (38), Veerahia Ramarajaha (54), Audrey Leeward (49), and Hasaintu Noah (60), were found guilty of illegally selling 26 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco and failing to account for nearly £4.8 million in lost revenue, following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The group, who all worked at the Gambian Diplomatic Mission in London, abused diplomatic privileges by purchasing large quantities of tobacco tax-free from specialist duty free sales companies International Diplomatic Supplies and Chacalli De Decker. The group then sold the tobacco on the black market at a profit, without accounting for tax or duty. They established a network for selling the tobacco to members of the Gambian community in London.

The investigation team found that the fraud had taken place for a number of years and the investigation focused on sales and purchases between 2009 and 2012.

Embassy rules allow diplomats to legitimately buy tobacco free from Excise Duty and VAT for personal use, but they are not allowed to sell it on.

Martin Brown, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said:

Diplomats are allowed duty free goods for their personal use but the systems works on trust. These individuals abused that trust by selling vast amounts of hand rolling tobacco on the black market, thinking they were beyond the reach of the law – they were wrong.

Investigators found an established supply network for the tobacco had been built up over a number of years.

Excise evasion is a serious offence and, as this case shows, HMRC will not hesitate to take action where we find evidence of fraud.