Black Country couple at heart of £17m smuggling racket, trial told

A Polish couple living in the Black Country were at the heart of a £17 million cigarette smuggling racket, a jury heard.

A stock photo of cigarettes
A stock photo of cigarettes

Ewa Konsek and Kristian Piechota masterminded the importation of 67 loads in three years between October 2010 and November 2013, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

The consignments were misdescribed as goods that, unlike cigarettes, do not have duty to be paid to the Revenue and Customs when brought into this country, explained Mr Jonathan Barker, prosecuting.

The cigarettes were seized on nine occasions but the other 56 trips got through without being spotted and were ultimately collected by 38-year-old Piechota who had £20,000 cash when stopped by police in September 2013.

He has pleaded guilty to his involvement in the smuggling operation, the jury was told.

A successful seizure on May 31, 2013, saw two and a half million smuggled cigarettes found at an industrial estate in Sunderland where the haul had been taken from a storage unit in Ruislip, the prosecutor said.

Belgian customs officers discovered seven pallets with tins supposedly full of coffee which actually contained 1 million cigarettes

Konsek did not get her "hands dirty" but allegedly employed her excellent command of English and experience of importing from Europe to arrange and facilitate the scam, it was claimed.

The 40-year-old hid behind two fake names - Emma Stephens and Kathy Manson, who each had their own e-mail - and hijacked the names of companies legitimately involved in importing whatever goods were detailed in the paperwork to conceal the real cargo, maintained Mr Barker.

Coffee, cash boxes, sweet peas and tinfoil were said to be among the decoys chosen.

The defendant, who had worked in retail and as a translator, was an intelligent woman who could speak, read and write English while having the "veneer of respectability" to make the fake imports look legitimate, the jury heard.

The "headline figure" for the amount of duty evaded by the smugglers was £17m, it was said.

Konsek, who denies avoiding duty on smuggled cigarettes, lived with Piechota at her home in Grace Road, Tipton, for part of the period covered by the racket in which she was allegedly involved, the court heard.

The case continues.

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