A BUSINESSMAN who avoided paying £2million in tax on garlic imported from China has been sentenced to six years in jail.
Murucasan Natarajan, 57, of West Drayton Park Avenue, West Drayton, was convicted of smuggling larger quantities of the vegetable into the UK than he declared to customs.
Natarajan has failed to turn up for his trial at the Old Bailey, but it went ahead anyway and he was convicted after a five-day trial, which ended on Friday, December 7.
The court heard that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) started investigating Natarajan, owner of Perfect Imports and Exports, in Southall, and Natarajan’s assistant Lakshmi Suresh, 26, after officers discovered more than 7,000 tons of garlic, in addition to the load disclosed for duty purposes – equalling almost £9,000 of unpaid duty.
HMRC officers later checked shipping records and discovered that imports of garlic had apparently stopped but imports of fresh ginger – which are exempt of duty – had increased five-fold.
Further checks showed that the temperature in the containers was too cold for ginger but perfect for garlic.
Natarajan denied involvement in the fraud, but damning evidence was recovered from computer records of conversations on Skype with Chinese employees, which suggested that he was complicit in a ‘systematic tax evasion’ ploy.
Prosecutor David Allan said of the tax avoidance: “Natarajan could afford to offer a good price to his customers – independent wholesalers in the UK – and still make a big profit. Other people importing garlic and playing by the rules lost out.”
Natarajan denied two counts of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of duty payable on goods between February 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011.
He was jailed for six years for one of the charges; the other remains on file. Almost £150,000 in cash was seized under the proceeds of crime act. It is believed to be one of the longest sentences for the evasion of customs duty in the UK in recent years.
Judge Worsley QC said he had played a leading role from the outset, describing the fraud as ‘sophisticated, persistent and prolonged’.
Lakshmi Suresh, of Stormount Drive, Hayes, admitted her role in the fraud at an earlier hearing and was sentenced to 12 months in jail, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £10,000 compensation.
■ Natarajan is on the run, and efforts are being made to trace him. If you know of his whereabouts, you can call HMRC’s fraud hotline on 0800 595 000.