A CIGARETTE smuggler dubbed El Cig who had a £16 million unpaid tax bill has begun a four-year jail term after being extradited back to the UK to face justice.
Edinburgh-born Malcolm McGowan spent 12 years on the run but was captured in Spain last month while lounging in a swimming pool.
The 61-year-old, who illegally imported 28.3m cigarettes into the country, was put onto a rogue’s gallery of the HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) 20 most wanted tax dodgers last year.
McGowan was part of a wider conspiracy to smuggle around 56m cigarettes into the UK between November 1999 and March 2000. His unpaid tax bill is estimated at £16m.
After being granted bail following his conviction at Sheffield Crown Court in 2001, McGowan failed to appear for sentencing that December and was sentenced in his absence to four years.
McGowan was arrested in Valencia on August 10 by the Guardia Civil.
The smuggler appeared at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday to finally begin his long-delayed prison sentence.
Adrian Farley, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “McGowan is finally facing UK justice after 12 years on the run. We are determined to pursue fugitives and ensure they face the consequences of their criminal activity.
“We can now begin to recover the proceeds of his role in the crime which, with daily interest, currently stands at over £345,000.
“HMRC would like to thank the Spanish authorities and UK organisations that assisted with this operation, resulting in McGowan’s extradition via Plymouth Ferry Port.”
Incredibly McGowan, who is still believed to have family in Scotland, was seized by Civil Guard officers in Valencia under a European Arrest Warrant in December 2011.
But he was bailed by bungling Spanish police – and immediately vanished again before British authorities were able to collar him.
Sending McGowan to jail yesterday, Judge Julian Goose QC, said: “You sought to evade justice and have been on the run for 12 years. You will now serve the four-year sentence you were given in 2001.”
Around the time of McGowan’s arrest in 2000, while he was living in Galashiels in the Borders, a number of illegal consignments of cigarettes were seized by customs.
In February 2000, customs officers examined three 40 foot containers at Tilbury Docks which had arrived from India, destined for Blackpool in Lancashire.
The contents were supposed to be “ceiling tiles” – but they actually contained 21m smuggled cigarettes.
In the same month, two lorries arrived at a unit in Wath-upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, via Dover. Again the contents were declared as “beds”, but more than 3.3m cigarettes were hidden inside. A container addressed to the same consignee in Blackpool was intercepted at Southampton Docks on its arrival from China in March 2000. The contents were again declared as “ceiling tiles”, concealing a further six million smuggled cigarettes.
The smuggler is believed to have funded a lavish lifestyle with his exploits, enjoying – among other things – a luxury Spanish villa.
One source said: “I’m pleased he’s now swapped his property in Majorca for a prison cell.”