A CIGARETTE smuggler on the UK Government’s most-wanted list of tax fugitives has been jailed for four years after being found in Spain.
Malcolm McGowan, 61, fled the UK 12 years ago after being found guilty of smuggling 28.3 million cigarettes, worth around £16 million, into the country.
He was sentenced in his absence in December 2001, having cost the UK around £4 million in duty, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.
McGowan, who had previously lived in Nottingham and Edinburgh, was arrested at a swimming pool in Valencia on August 10 by the Guardia Civil.
Following his extradition, he appeared at Sheffield Crown Court today to finally begin his four-year prison term.
Judge Julian Goose QC said: “You sought to evade justice and have been on the run for 12 years. You will now serve the four-year sentence you were given in 2001.”
According to reports, McGowan was arrested in December 2011 following a tip-off that he was living in Valencia but went on the run for a second time after being granted bail.
He was one of 20 people accused of fleeing the country while owing hundreds of thousands of pounds - and in many instances millions - whose names and pictures were published by HMRC for the first time last year.
Details of a further 10 alleged tax dodgers were published last month, while another fugitive has since been added to the list.
McGowan was part of a wider conspiracy to smuggle around 56 million cigarettes into the UK between November 1999 and March 2000, HMRC said.
Ten other men were involved in the plot, which cost the UK taxpayer more than £8.2 million, the authority said.
According to HMRC, a number of consignments of cigarettes were seized around the time of McGowan’s arrest in 2000. They included:
• Three 40 foot containers at Tilbury Docks in Essex which arrived from India and were destined for Blackpool. The contents were declared as ceiling tiles but concealed 21 million smuggled cigarettes.
• A container addressed to the same consignee in Blackpool which was intercepted at Southampton Docks on its arrival from China. The contents were again declared as ceiling tiles and concealed a further six million smuggled cigarettes.
• Two lorries at a unit in Wath-upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, which had arrived at Dover Ferry Port from France. The contents were declared as beds but concealed more than 3.3 million cigarettes.
Following the sentencing hearing, Adrian Farley, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “McGowan is finally facing UK justice after 12 years on the run. We are determined to pursue fugitives and ensure they face the consequences of their criminal activity.
“We can now begin to recover the proceeds of his role in the crime which, with daily interest, currently stands at over £345,000. HMRC would like to thank the Spanish authorities and UK organisations that assisted with this operation, resulting in McGowan’s extradition via Plymouth Ferry Port.”
The latest fugitive on HMRC’s wanted list is John Sabin over his involvement in a £26 million cigarette smuggling fraud.
He failed to appear for sentencing on December 18 2001 and was sentenced in his absence to four years in prison. He is believed to be in the UK, HMRC said.