Northern Ireland

Smuggled gold worth over £1m auctioned in Northern Ireland

Gold bar
Image caption Gold bars auctioned in Mallusk, County Antrim, were seized during an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into a £9m smuggling plot

Smuggled gold, estimated to be worth more than £1m, has been sold at auction in Northern Ireland.

The gold was seized during an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into a £9m smuggling plot.

The investigation saw the gang's leader, Chaudry Ali of Middlesex, England, jailed for nine years in 2012.

The most expensive lot for sale at the auction, held in Mallusk, County Antrim, was a 24 carat, 12.5kg solid gold bar worth £300,000.

Other entries included Asian gold bracelets, necklaces, rings, a statue and smaller gold bars, still worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Mike Parkinson, assistant director of the HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service said: "This was part of a VAT fraud.

"The individuals that were involved in this were bringing this gold in from Dubai, but then working it through from Frankfurt in Germany and therefore not declaring it for VAT purposes."

Image caption Mike Parkinson from HMRC (right) explains the background to the gold seizure to BBC News NI reporter Andy West

To carry out the fraud, Ali recruited two couriers who would fly to Dubai, via Frankfurt, to collect large amounts of gold jewellery.

The couriers would leave the UK in the afternoon, arriving in Dubai early the next morning.

They would collect the gold then leave Dubai the same evening returning to Frankfurt, and meet Ali in an airside lounge. They would then swap bags - Ali leaving with the gold and the courier leaving with a bag of clothes.

Previous auctions have already raised £700,000. Friday's auction at Wilsons Auctions, Mallusk, is expected to raise well over £1m, with bids coming in from millionaires and billionaires from across the globe.

Image caption The gold bars are worth tens of thousands of pounds

Aidan Larkin, asset recovery department manager for Wilsons Auctions, said: "It's over to us now to make as much money as possible and put it back into the public purse."

Both Ali and his courier would take separate flights back to the UK, passing through the European Union (EU) entry channel at UK arrivals.

In case he was stopped by officers, Ali carried forged paperwork that claimed he was a legitimate VAT-registered gold trader who had travelled to Europe with the gold in his bag. As he had not left the EU, no duty would be payable on the gold.

During the investigation HMRC officers uncovered over 200 similar flights where it is believed gold had been smuggled into the UK using this set up.