Wednesday, December 10, 2014 4:30 pm
A group of Gambian diplomats were jailed on Wednesday after being found guilty of running a huge tax-dodging tobacco operation out of the Gambian embassy in London.
Judge Michael Gledhill at London’s Southwark Crown Court said the seven embassy workers had “breached the trust of the president and people of Gambia” after cheating British taxpayers out of £4.8 million (6 million euros, $7.5 million).
Former deputy head of the mission, 54-year-old Yusupha Bojang, was identified as the ringleader of the operation, ordering half-a-million packets of tax-free rolling tobacco over three years and selling it out of the west London building.
The 29 tonnes of tobacco was only for personal use or that of embassy staff but the gang — themselves non-smokers — became so “bold” that long queues of customers lined up outside the building.
“In any view, this was a substantial fraud on the public purse and the losers are every citizen of this country,” said the judge.
“Each of you say you were trying simply to help your fellow Gambians. In my judgement that is not just nonsense, it is a downright lie.
“The fraudulent ordering was so blatant that the only conclusion one can reach is that you were sure you would not be caught.
“You have breached the trust of the president and people of Gambia.”
He said Bojang had been seen as a “father figure” and sentenced him to seven years in jail.
Former first secretary Gaston Sambou, 48, and finance attache Ebrima John, 38, were both jailed for six years while welfare officer Georgina Gomez, 29, was sentenced to five years.
All four face deportation after serving their terms.
Embassy workers Veerahia Ramarajaha, 54, Audrey Leeward, 49, and Hasaintu Noah, 60, were each imprisoned for three years.
Defence lawyers warned the diplomats face severe “consequences” if they are made to return to Gambia.