Two men convicted of smuggling illicit Italian wine into Britain have been jailed for excise tax evasion after an investigation by the country's revenue and customs department (HMRC).
Roberto Parma, 54, was sentenced to six years and seven months imprisonment. His accomplice in the scam, Alberto Mori, 53, was sentenced to seven years. The pair imported wine from Italy and sold it on without paying more than 5 million pounds ($7.5 million) that was owed in duty and VAT (sales tax).
According to an HMRC statement, Parma, the owner of I Nobili UK Ltd, imported wine from an Italian-based company, Cantine Soldo spa, using the U.K.’s duty suspension scheme. He and Mori exploited this scheme by using the same delivery documents many times. They avoided paying duty by diverting the wine from the bonded warehouse, when duty would normally be paid.
Mori, the owner of Soldo U.K. Ltd, a London wine merchant, worked with Parma to sell the imported wine illegally through a network of wholesalers around the UK.
HMRC investigators found that Parma’s company provided cover for the fraud. The firm utilized Skype messaging to orchestrate the movement of wine from Italian warehouses, and gave code words to drivers to use when picking up the loads. The aim was to avoid paperwork landing in official hands.
David Margree, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, 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."
Margree added: "HMRC will not stand by while criminals try to cheat the system. The message is clear – HMRC will find you, and you will go to court.
Parma and Mori were arrested in July 2009 after investigators discovered more than 114,000 liters of wine during a search. They realized the scale of the fraud after finding records on company computers and on a memory stick mapping out the fraud. In addition, stock levels at bonded warehouse showed that the pair were storing wine was 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 Britain in 2012 to stand trial. During the arrest more than 58,000 pounds ($87,000) in cash was seized.
The customs department says that confiscation proceedings are underway.