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HMRC internal manual

Tobacco Products Duty

From
HM Revenue & Customs
Updated
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Fraud and theft: Revenue offences associated with theft

Although the theft of tobacco products will often mean that some incidental revenueoffences will have been committed, the prime motive of the thief will not necessarily havebeen to defraud the Crown of the duty. It follows that it will not always be appropriateto take proceedings for the revenue offences in parallel with police proceedings for thetheft. Every case should be considered on its own merits. In deciding your action youshould take the following factors into account.

  • Whether it is petty theft or whether it could be of greater significance and requires further investigation (eg by the NIS), bearing in mind that major frauds can sometimes be uncovered by the investigation of what seem initially to be trivial irregularities.
  • Whether the stolen products were taken before or after the stage where they should have been included in the production account.
  • How it happened and whether the trader’s control arrangements could be improved to prevent a recurrence.
  • Whether the evidence would support a revenue prosecution.
  • Whether the publicity of a conviction for a revenue offence would aid control (traders often welcome a revenue prosecution because it reinforces their own disciplinary measures).

The Department’s attitude towards petty theft is that the trader is responsiblefor the safe custody of his goods and for the duty. He is therefore expected to deal witheach case by disciplinary action, which often involves dismissal and prosecution fortheft. If you are satisfied that the trader has taken action which will effectively dealwith the case and deter other potential offenders, official action can be confined torecovery of the duty from the trader and/or issue of a warning letter if the trader hasfailed properly to secure and account for the products.

Petty theft, in this context, means isolated abstractions of a few retail packs of tobaccoproducts for personal use. Systematic abstraction of products in larger quantity for gainor commercial resale should not be regarded as petty theft and more stringent actionshould be considered, especially if the thief has a supervisory or management role in thecompany or is in a position of responsibility (eg a security guard).

As a general rule, if theft charges are being brought by the police it will rarely beappropriate to take parallel proceedings for a revenue offence, if the quantities involvedare 5,000 cigarettes or less (or the revenue equivalent in the case of other products).

In other cases, where significant sums of duty have been evaded, much will depend on theviews of the prosecuting authority as to the desirability of associating revenue chargeswith those for the theft. It will usually be appropriate to consider charges for offencesunder the Customs and Excise Acts if the offence is committed by, or with the involvementof, the trader or its responsible employees.