UK: Garlic smuggler gets 6 years

A garlic smuggler has been jailed for six years after evading around £2 million in customs duty while importing Chinese garlic.

The smuggler, who is now on the run, claimed he was importing ginger but HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators found that the containers used were transported at the wrong temperature.

HMRC had launched an investigation into Murugasan Natarajan, 57, who owned the London-based Perfect Imports & Exports Ltd company, and his assistant, Lakshmi Suresh, 28, after UK Border Agency officers found more than 7,000 tons of garlic. This was in addition to the load disclosed for duty purposes – equalling almost £9,000 of unpaid duty. HMRC later checked shipping records and discovered that imports of garlic had stopped but importations of fresh ginger - which are free of duty - had increased five-fold. Further checks showed that the temperature in the containers were too cold for ginger, but perfect for garlic.

Natarajan was arrested in April 2011, and was tried in his absence after failing to surrender to bail.

Peter Millroy, Assistant Director of HMRC Criminal Investigation, said:

“The penalty imposed on Natarajan is the longest sentence in the UK in recent years for the evasion of customs duty. Over 100 containers were identified where there were strong grounds to believe that the contents had either been understated or wrongly described. These rules are designed to protect legitimate businesses from unfair competition.”

During a search of Natarajan’s property, almost £150,000 in cash was seized under the proceeds of crime act. In sentencing Natarajan, His Honour Judge Worsley QC said he had played a leading role from the outset, describing the fraud as being “sophisticated, persistent and prolonged”.

Anyone with any information of the whereabouts of Natarajan should contact HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post.

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