Wayne Hardy, originally from Nottinghamshire, played a key role in the £1.9 million plot to manufacture illicit tobacco on a commercial scale. He was handed a three-year jail sentence in his absence after fleeing to Cape Town in 2010.
The 56-year-old, who features on HMRC’s Most Wanted list, was arrested in the South African city in November 2016 and placed on remand in the Pollsmoor Prison. He was extradited back to the UK via Heathrow Airport this morning, accompanied by HMRC officers, before being taken to Ipswich Crown Court where his sentence was extended by three months.
Hardy is the fifth and final member of the gang to go to prison – four others were jailed in April 2011 for their part in the scam.
Simon York, Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:
"Hardy thought he could avoid jail by fleeing to South Africa, leaving his accomplices to serve their time while he soaked up the sunshine. He was wrong, and has now swapped the South African beaches for a British prison cell.
"Running away from tax crime isn’t an option. As this case shows, we will constantly pursue fugitives who, like Hardy, think they can avoid paying for their crime. Our message is clear – nobody is beyond our reach.”
The gang were in the process of setting up an illegal counterfeit tobacco factory, which would have netted them many millions of pounds in unpaid duty, when they were raided.
The plot was smashed when more than 100 HMRC officers, supported by our law enforcement partners raided premises in Suffolk, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Essex in July 2008.
At a farm in Leicestershire, officers discovered more than 16 tonnes of raw leaf tobacco which would have been manufactured into hand-rolling tobacco. The duty evaded on this amount of tobacco alone is estimated at £1.9 million.
The scam was linked to Bulgaria and, in a joint operation, officers from the Bulgarian National Counter Organised Crime Agency simultaneously searched premises in Bulgaria.
HMRC officers in the UK and abroad, with good international cooperation from South African law enforcement agencies and Interpol, worked to bring Hardy back to the UK.