By Andrew Saunders Monday, 10 December 2012

Garlic smuggler gets six years for evading £2m import duty

What's the difference between garlic and ginger? About six years if the taxman catches you pretending the former is the latter it seems...

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A man who dodged £2m of import duty on fresh garlic by falsely claiming it was (tax-free) fresh ginger has been jailed for 6 years, the toughest penalty in recent years for import duty avoidance.

Murugasan Natarajan, 57, and his assistant Lakshmi Suresh, were convicted of dodging the tax. Natarajan received a six-year sentence, Suresh a 12 month suspended sentence plus a £10,000 fine payable to the taxman.

Who knew that garlic - or Allium sativum to give it its proper name - was even a vehicle for tax evasion? But it appears to be more common than the layperson might think - a similar case in Ireland earlier in the year resulted in the jailing of the head of one of Ireland’s largest fruit’n’veg producers.

In the case of Natarajan and his business, Perfect Imports & Exports of Southall Middlesex, HMRC first smelt a rat, as it were, when Borders Agency staff found containers holding 7,000 tonnes of fresh garlic. This despite the fact that paperwork claimed that imports of garlic had stopped while imports of ginger - which attracts no duty - had risen fivefold. Hmmm, there’s something not right here Dr Watson…

The fraud was described by His Honour Judge Worsley QC at the Old Bailey as ‘persistent, sophisticated and prolonged.’ Not to mention pungent.

If ever you wanted proof that life is getting harder for the nation’s tax avoiders, here it is.

There’s only one small problem - Natarajan skipped bail after his arrest last year, and hasn’t been seen or heard of since. So he was tried and sentenced in his absence, and unless he turns up or is found by the police, he won’t actually be going to jail.

Although you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to pick up his trail - surely even the mangiest of sniffer dogs could follow the scent of a man who was recently in possession of 7,000 tonnes of illicit garlic?

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