Brothers jailed for secret warehouse scam

TWO brothers from Rochdale have been jailed for storing illegal vodka as part of a £50m duty fraud.

The men used a non-registered warehouse with a secret entrance, which was raided by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers.

Shakeel Awan, 51, Imran Awan, 43, and their accomplice, Michael Parker, 53, who is also from Rochdale, were found guilty of excise duty evasion in November 2012 at Manchester Crown Court and jailed last week.

They were linked to a wider conspiracy which led to the jailing of four men from Kent and Essex last year.

The brothers were directors of a wholesaler called Liquorflow, which was wound up in 2009, while Parker was an employee. Imran Awan was jailed for 14 months, while Shakeel was given 21 months. Parker received eight months, suspended for a year, and a 200-hour community order.

HMRC officers raided the Rochdale industrial unit in 2007 after a covert surveillance operation tracking the movement of criminal gangs and illegal alcohol from Essex to the North West. The vodka was produced in Scotland and on paper was due to be exported to Belgium.

However, the consignment was diverted to a secret Rochdale warehouse that was not licensed for the storage of duty-free goods. Access was through a secret door in a shower cubicle from an adjacent warehouse. The revenue evaded on the Rochdale vodka was about £100,000, said HMRC.

Mike O’Grady, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said: “These men have been linked to a much larger organised crime gang by evidence gathered during our investigation. Ultimately, the fraudsters diverted shipments of alcohol, produced in the UK and destined for export, in an attempt to evade over £50m in excise duty.

“Despite their denials these three have been sentenced for their part in this wholesale fraud. The secret door in the shower cubicle was very telling evidence.”