County Armagh: Two jailed over illegal cigarette factory

Two men have been jailed after an underground cigarette factory was discovered in County Armagh by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Reinolds Kondrats, 30, and Germans Solovjovs, 26, were arrested at a house on on the Ballynaclosha Road in Silverbridge in November 2019.

Searches of an outhouse revealed cigarette manufacturing machinery.

It was concealed in an underground concrete bunker and accessed via a hidden door.

The men were charged with tax evasion and both pleaded guilty to all charges last month.

They appeared at Newry Crown Court on Friday where they were sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Solovjovs and Kondrats, both of Ballynaclosha Road in Silverbridge, will spend half their sentence in jail and the rest on licence.

Solovjovs also admitted to a further tax evasion charge in relation to a separate fraud in Newry in November 2018, when 1.4 million illicit cigarettes and approximately four tonnes of processed tobacco were seized.

HMRC described the factory as “sophisticated” and said while it was not yet operational, it would eventually have been capable of producing one million illicit cigarettes a day.

Clampdown on illicit tobacco

The machinery, estimated to be worth £270,000, was seized along with five bags which contained 101.3kgs of processed tobacco.

The tobacco had a duty value of £41,245.87.

Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said the trade in illegal tobacco would not be tolerated:

“It undermines legitimate traders, including small, independent shops that serve local communities, and takes funding away from our vital public services.

“That’s why disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market.”

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