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Contraband: British court orders Nigerian to pay £26,835 fine for smuggling cigarettes

*UK Tribunal Judge Abigail Mcgregor held that Oladipupo Fagbewesa, a Nigerian, owned the cigarettes taken from his baggage and upheld the penalty to pay approximately N15 million (£26,835) fine

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

In relation to 61,800 cigarettes detected in his travel bag, a United Kingdom (UK) tribunal has ordered Oladipupo Fagbewesa, a Nigerian man, to pay approximately N15 million (£26,835) fine.

ConsumerConnect learnt Fagbewesa, who was returning from Lagos to Heathrow Airport, February 14, 2023, in London, was charged on Wednesday, by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to determine if he was the owner of the seized cigarettes.

The computation is included in a 5 percent discount for cooperation, agency report said.

HMRC issued a Notice of Assessment to the appellant in the amount of £26,835 in accordance with Sections 25(1) of the Finance Act 2003 and 8(1) of the Finance Act 1994. For the purposes of the appeal, however, Joshua Carey, counsel to the HMRC, said the revenue outfit accepted that if the court found that the cigarettes did not belong to Fagbewesa, the penalty would fall away.

Counsel for Fagbewesa, Macpherson Mickel, admitted that if the tribunal concluded that Fagbewesa was the owner of the cigarettes, then dishonesty would follow.

In his argument, Mickel told the court that the luggage was out of Fagbewesa’s control from Tuesday, February 11, 2020, when they were checked in at Lagos airport, until Saturday, February 15, 2020, when they were returned to him.

Mickel claimed that Fagbewesa did not put cigarettes in the baggage and that they were not present when he checked in at Murtala Muhammed International International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, in Lagos State.

The Counsel further claimed that speculation about how the smoke ended up in the bags was unrelated to the inquiry, and that HMRC did not meet the burden of showing that Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes.

However, HMRC attorney Joshua Carey stated that the story of not owning the cigarettes was “made up in order to avoid the penalty.”

In her ruling, Tribunal Judge Abigail Mcgregor, held that Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes taken from his baggage and upheld the penalty.

The Judge stated: “As we have noted, we found Fagbewesa’s oral evidence to be inconsistent.

“A period of just shy of three years had elapsed between the flight into the UK and the hearing of the appeal, and therefore, an element of lost memory is to be expected.”

Justice Mcgregor said: “However, the inconsistency extended to questions asked with only minutes in between during his oral evidence.

“He (Fagbewesa) was evasive when being asked questions that would lead to him having to give inconsistent answers, and he gave as little information in response to questions as he could.

“Put simply, we did not believe that he did not own the cigarettes.

“We find, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr. Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes that were seized from his bags.

“As noted above, having found ownership, dishonesty, and liability for the penalty follows automatically.

“We also find that a reduction of 5% for the amount of co-operation given, being only sending back the signed letter, was a reasonable reduction. “Therefore, the penalty stands.”

The Judge also ruled that any party dissatisfied with this decision has a right to apply for permission to appeal against it, pursuant to Rule 39 of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Tax Chamber) Rules 2009.

The Tribunal Judge, however, noted such an application must be received not later than 56 days after the decision is sent to that party.

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