A fraudster who masterminded a smuggling ring from his Brentford flat has been jailed after customs officials uncovered plans to evade paying tax on a staggering ONE MILLION cigarettes.
Piotr Salamon, 44, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after HM Revenue & Customs police swooped as he and his Kurdish asylum-seeking accomplice filled a van with the illegal hoard.
Salamon, of Whitestile Road, was arrested in September 2006 as he loaded boxes of cigarettes stashed at the Big Yellow Self Storage depot in Staples Corner, north-west London.
Stuart Robinson, senior investigating officer for HM Revenue and Customs, said: "These men were distributing cigarettes which had been smuggled into the UK without payment of duty.
"Almost a quarter of a million pounds tax was evaded, money which, had it been collected, could have been used to fund local public services.
"We take a serious view of such conduct and will actively pursue those who commit such fraud, to the full extent of the law."
The court heard how Ari Mustapha, 34, an asylum seeker from east London, was arrested alongside Salamon and received a 14-month sentence.
The third man to appear in Isleworth Crown Court on November 21 was 41-year-old Kalwa Salh, another criminal of Kurdish origin who was found waiting in a van parked nearby with £31,000 in cash.
It is thought he planned to buy the cigarettes from Salamon. He received an 18-month sentence.
All three men had been charged with fraudulent evasion of excise duty which resulted in a tax loss of approximately £214,000.
The swoop was part of an operation looking at smuggling and distribution of cigarettes.
Neighbours this week told of their shock at the conviction.
Martin Bulley, 47, who owns a dental lab on Whitestile Road, said: "I saw Revenue and Customs come crashing through his door and wondered what that was about.
"He was a nice guy, just a normal neighbour."
Another resident, who asked not to be named, added: "It's not very nice having that going on on your doorstep, it lowers the tone of the place. But I have never felt unsafe around here."