Seven Gambian Embassy staff who illegally sold tax-free tobacco out of the diplomatic mission have been handed prison sentences totalling 33 years.
Over the course of three years more than half a million 50g pouches of tax-free tobacco were purchased by embassy workers which were sold on to customers, defrauding HMRC out of £4.8m in tax revenues.
“The quantities of tobacco ordered meant that at times the mission must have looked like a wholesale warehouse,” Judge Michael Gledhill QC said.
Southwark Crown Court heard that queues of customers would stretch around the block at the Kensington Court Embassy.
Of the seven who were convicted, four were diplomats, but the Gambian Government agreed to waive their diplomatic immunity so that they could face prosecution.
The ringleader of the operation was Yusupha Bojang, the Deputy Head of Mission who was jailed for seven years. First secretary Gaston Sambou, 48, was jailed for six years; finance attaché Ebrima John, 38, was jailed for six years; and welfare officer Georgina Gomez, 29, jailed for five years.
Local staff Veerahia Ramarajaha, 54, Audrey Leeward, 49, and Hasaintu Noah, 60, were jailed for three years each.
All seven will face deportation once they have served their prison sentences.
In a statement to Embassy, the Foreign Office said the convictions were the culmination of a three-year investigation by officers of HMRC and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The FCO added that investigators had received the “fullest cooperation” from the Gambian authorities, including the granting of waivers of immunity for the four diplomats involved in the fraud.
The case proves that when an offence takes place, the FCO will not hesitate to take “firm action” against those responsible.
This is the second case involving diplomatic workers cheating the HMRC out of revenue. In July 2012 the Ugandan High Commission was at the centre of a fraud investigation amounting to £2m in lost revenue.
The scale of the scam in 2012 prompted the Foreign Office to impose or revise the quotas on the sale of duty free goods and to close loopholes in the processing of duty free orders.
The FCO said there were no plans at present to make additional changes to the current system, although it reserves the right to do so.