Tobacco case diplomats sentenced

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Published: Wednesday 10th December 2014 by The News Editor

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A gang of Gambian diplomats who turned their embassy in London into a tax-free tobacconist will be sentenced today for cheating the British taxpayer out of nearly £5 million.

Yusupha Bojang, the deputy head of the Gambian Diplomatic Mission in Kensington, and his colleagues ordered 29 tonnes of rolling tobacco over three years, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

More than half a million 50g pouches were imported at tax-free rates which were only permissible for goods for personal use or that of the Gambian High Commission.

Much of the tobacco was then sold from the embassy and as a result, VAT and excise duty should have been paid to the value of almost £4.8 million.

Following a trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court, Bojang, first secretary Gaston Sambou, welfare officer Georgina Gomez and finance attache Ebrima John, who all had diplomatic privileges, were found guilty of conspiracy to cheat the revenue along with fellow embassy workers Veerahia Ramarajaha, Audrey Leeward and Hasaintu Noah.

Ramarajaha was also convicted of dealing, harbouring, concealing or carrying dutiable goods.

Following their convictions on Monday, Lisa Rose, specialist fraud prosecutor at the CPS, said: ”The deception undertaken by these defendants involved a serious breach of the trust of their own government and of the British people.

”The scheme they designed and implemented not only resulted in the public purse being cheated of almost £4.8 million in tax revenue but it also abused their diplomatic status, taking advantage of the entire system of diplomatic privilege which is reliant on trust and responsibility.

”For all practical purposes, the scheme in operation was like running a business and the volume of tobacco was so large that to suggest it was for personal use, or for the use of the High Commission, is implausible.”

Ms Rose thanked the government of The Gambia for waiving diplomatic immunity in the case of four of the defendants.

She added: ”The public should have confidence that in cases where our tax systems have been exploited, all steps will be taken to ensure that diplomatic staff cannot commit offences and then hide behind diplomatic immunity.”

Another defendant, Ida Jeng Njie, was found not guilty of conspiracy to cheat the revenue.

The seven guilty defendants will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court by Judge Michael Gledhill QC.

Published: Wednesday 10th December 2014 by The News Editor

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