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A gang led by Gambian diplomats who turned their London embassy into a tax-free tobacconist, cheating British taxpayer out of nearly £5 million have been jailed for 33 years.

Yusupha Bojang, 54, the deputy head of the Gambian Diplomatic Mission in Kensington, and his colleagues ordered 29 tonnes of rolling tobacco over three years.

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 sold from the embassy, but the gang failed to pay STG4.8 million in VAT and excise duty.

The racket became bigger as the gang became more confident and believed they would never be investigated, London’s Southwark Crown Court heard.

It became so “bold” the embassy in Kensington was hit with long queues of customers buying the Golden Virginia and Old Holborn tobacco.In some cases, the gang members were ordering tobacco worth more than their annual salary, and so much of it that suppliers couldn’t keep up with demand.

They pretended the tobacco was for personal use, but didn’t smoke.

Judge Michael Gledhill QC said the four diplomats “breached the trust” of the British and Gambian people.

“In any view, this was a substantial fraud on the public purse and the losers are every citizen of this country,” he said.

“Each of you say you were trying simply to help your fellow Gambians. In my judgement that is not just nonsense, it is a downright lie.

“Each of you made a substantial profit – this was your business.”

He said the fraudulent ordering was so blatant that the only conclusion to draw was that they were sure they would not be caught.

He said Bojang, a senior staff member and considered a “father figure”, was the ringleader, but all the diplomats profited from the scam.

Bojang was jailed for seven years. He was joined in the dock by first secretary Gaston Sambou, 48, who was jailed for six years.

Finance attache Ebrima John, 38, was jailed for six years and welfare officer Georgina Gomez, 29, who sobbed throughout the hearing, was sentenced to five years.

All four diplomats had earlier been found guilty of conspiracy to cheat the inland revenue.

Fellow embassy workers Veerahia Ramarajaha, 54, Audrey Leeward, 49, and Hasaintu Noah, 60, were convicted of the same offence.

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

They were all jailed for three years each.

Courtesy of www.news.com.au

Ends

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