In the olden days smugglers risked a nasty beating, being run through by a sword, thrown into a damp, foetid gaol or hanged. Nowadays smugglers face prosecution… plus the wrath of the VAT man.

In a contemporary context it can be almost as risky as in the old days. You really can lose everything: your reputation, livelihood, freedom and your home.

Douglas Allison pays the extra price of fag smuggling

Douglas Allison led a gang that attempted to smuggle more than 13 million counterfeit cigarettes into the UK. He was jailed for six and a half years at Maidstone Crown Court in 2012, which is bad enough. But an extension to his sentence announced last week is the icing on a particularly horrible cake: he has been ordered to pay £30,000 within six months or face another 14 months in prison.

Because an estimated £2.7 million in excise duty and VAT hadn’t been paid on the cigarettes, HMRC was seriously out of pocket. And they’re entitled to claw back some of it from the perpetrator. Which seems fair enough when, as John Cooper, of HM Revenue and Customs, remarked, “Allison was a criminal who was motivated purely by greed to make a huge profit at the expense of honest taxpayers, pocketing money that could have been spent on public services for the benefit of the whole community.”

How will Allison pay the cash? He might have to sell his home, if he owns property, or use his savings. Either way it’s a huge amount of money and a risk few intelligent property owners would want to take. It’ll be interesting to see the effect penalties like this ultimately have on smuggling… if any.

Shop a fraudster

The whole smuggling thing becomes even riskier when you realise there’s a way to shop smugglers to the authorities. There’s a 24 hour hotline to deal with the illegal import and sale of cigarettes or tobacco to contact the 24-hour customs hotline… and people are using it.