THE Flintshire mastermind behind a £1.8 million excise alcohol fraud across North West England has been jailed.

Paramjit Bagri, of Holway Road, Holywell, and five other men, were charged with conspiring to evade UK duty between January 2007 and January 2008.

Bagri, 45, was sentenced on Friday to five-and-a-half years.

Separately, Bagri pleaded guilty to a charge concerning the attempted illegal importation of nine million cigarettes in December 2007 and was sentenced to an additional 42 months for that to run concurrently. The cigarettes had a potential tax loss of over £1.4 million.

During the course of their investigation, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers discovered that spirits, beer and wine were taken from bonded warehouses throughout the UK and then illegally diverted from their intended destination, usually Europe, ending up for sale in the North West of England, Scotland and the Midlands without duty having been paid.

On sentencing, His Honour Judge Steiger said: “This was an ingenious and complex fraud and I am satisfied that Bagri was top of the tree”.

Bagri and three men, Nadim Iqbal, from Oldham, Mohammed Vaqas, from Rochdale and Baldeep Singh Tahkar, from Billingham, pleaded guilty before the start of a trial.

Richard Gerrard Ellis, from Manchester, and Mohammed Tariq, from Scotland, were found guilty by a jury at Manchester Crown Court in June 2011.

Confiscation proceedings are now under way involving the analysis of how key figures in the gang attempted to evade taxes and hide the cash gained from their illegal trade.

The evaded UK duty alone was given as over £1,799,448 in court, however, the confiscation will look to determine other tax evasion and criminal benefits associated with their activities.

Mike O’Grady, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “These men diverted large numbers of consignments of alcohol from their intended legitimate destinations thereby avoiding paying UK duty and taxes.

“It was a very calculated attempt to defraud the Crown and to personally profit from the illegal trade.

“HMRC is committed to protecting public finances from attacks by organised crime.

We would ask anyone with information relating to this type of crime to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 and help us stamp it out.

“Remember if you are offered cheap alcohol or cigarettes you could be financing criminals like this.”