Wine smugglers jailed over £5m VAT scam

by Calum Fuller

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14 Mar 2013

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TWO WINE SMUGGLERS are facing jail terms after being found guilty of evading about £5m in VAT and excise duty following an investigation by the taxman.

Roberto Parma was handed a sentence of six years and seven months, while Alberto Mori was given seven years after they imported and sold wine from Italy and without passing on the VAT due.

Parma owned I Nobili UK and imported wine from the Italian-based Cantine Soldo spa using the UK's duty suspension scheme -which means storing alchol incurrs no VAT payment. Parma and Mori abused the scheme by using the same delivery documents several times and avoiding paying duty by diverting the wine from the storage warehouse to a retailer. 

Mori owned Soldo UK, a London wine merchant, and worked with Parma to sell on the imported wine illegally through a network of wholesalers throughout the UK.

An HM Revenue & Customs investigation found Parma's company was cover for the fraud, using Skype messaging to co-ordinate the movement of the wine from Italian warehouses.

The pair were arrested in July 2009 following the discovery of more than 114,000 litres of wine during a search. The full extent of the fraud was realised after an HMRC investigator found computer records and a memory stick detailing how the scheme functioned.

A further indication of the fraud was revealed by stock levels at the UK warehouse, showing the wine was being stored for unusually long periods of time.

Parma and Mori skipped bail and returned to Italy, but were tracked down by Italian Police and extradited to the UK in 2012 to stand trial. During the arrest more than £58,000 of cash was seized.

Confiscation proceedings are currently underway.

The movement of duty-suspended alcohol is controlled by HMRC and foreign customs authorities. Alcohol may be stored and moved between bonded warehouses within the EU without the payment of excise duties.

However, once the business needs to release the alcohol to retail outlets, the excise duty becomes payable at the rates applicable in the host country. As a result, UK duty was due as soon as the alcohol was diverted from the UK bonded warehouse to the UK market.

HMRC's assistant director of criminal investigation David Margree said: "The sole intention of importing this wine was to rip off the honest taxpayer to line their own pockets. These men thought they would use crafty code words and complex chains to avoid detection, but HMRC was able to detect and stop this scam."

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