A South Yorkshire crime gang, who evaded £3.8 million in duty and VAT by smuggling beer into the UK, has been jailed for a total of 19 years.

The four men, who came from Doncaster and Rotherham, used duplicated paperwork to bring truckloads of beer into the country from France, Belgium and Germany in a scam known as diversion fraud.

An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found the gang sold the illegally imported goods for cash on a “no VAT, no invoice” basis to small off licences and other retailers across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, predominantly in Doncaster, Hull and Scunthorpe.

Ringleader Huseyin Zerze, of Lonsdale Avenue, Doncaster, used a sandwich shop as a front to hide his criminal scheme.

It went from making £30,000-a-year to spending around £1.5m on alcohol in five months.

Stuart Taylor, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“This was a sophisticated and shameful attack on the UK’s alcohol trade that undoubtedly harmed legitimate and hardworking businesses. Zerze and his criminal gang stole millions of pounds which should have been used to fund our public services and now they are paying the price behind bars".

Today, Zerze was jailed for seven years for conspiring to cheat the public revenue. His fellow gang members were also convicted of conspiring to cheat the public revenue:

  • Ozgur Kaplan, 27, of Pringle Road, Rotherham, was jailed for two years

  • Ibrahim Mayil, 38, of Sandall Park Drive, Doncaster was jailed for five years

  • Huseyin Mayil, 36, of Wheatley Hills, Doncaster was jailed for five years

Thirty-one-year-old Zerze was the mastermind behind the conspiracy, which saw large volumes of household branded beer, including Budweiser, Carlsberg and Stella, illegally imported and sold in the UK.

The goods were purchased by the gang before being imported into the UK via a bonded warehouse in Germany, where alcohol can be stored without paying duty.

According to the import paperwork, the truckloads of duty-suspended beer were destined for UK bonded warehouses based in Haydock, Doncaster and London.

However the beer was illegally diverted to the gang’s premises and then sold without duty being paid.

The gang initially used Expo Cash & Carry Ltd, owned by Zerze, to run the fraud from premises in Doncaster, Liverpool and Roydon.

The business closed down in June 2013 after HMRC started looking into the company.

Zerze and his right hand man, Kaplan, continued the fraud using the company details and accounts of a former £30,000 a year sandwich shop in York called The Pita (UK) Ltd.

The gang leader also employed his uncles, Ibrahim and Huseyin Mayil, to set up a new business called Rotherham Cash & Carry Ltd, on Sandbeck Way, Hellaby, to take deliveries and sell the illegal goods once they arrived in the UK.

HMRC officers raided addresses, including Rotherham Cash and Carry, linked to the gang in November 2013.

At the same time, German authorities closed down the bonded warehouse after the company was found to be operating illegally.

They seized more than 425,000 litres of smuggled beer, worth £575,706 in duty, and £68,000 cash from various businesses premises.

The four men were sentenced for conspiring to cheat the public revenue at Leeds Crown Court today (September 22).