A garlic smuggler is on the run after he was handed a six-year jail sentence in his absence for evading around £2m in customs duty while importing Chinese garlic.
The smuggler claimed he was importing ginger, which is free of duty, but HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators found that the containers supposedly used to transport the ginger were at the wrong temperature, but at the perfect temperature for garlic, which does attract duty.
HMRC later checked shipping records and discovered that the company's imports of garlic had stopped but importations of fresh ginger had increased five-fold.
Natarajan was arrested in April 2011, and was tried in his absence after failing to surrender to bail.
Peter Millroy, assistant director of HMRC Criminal Investigation, said: "The penalty imposed on Natarajan is the longest sentence in the UK in recent years for the evasion of customs duty. Over 100 containers were identified where there were strong grounds to believe that the contents had either been understated or wrongly described. These rules are designed to protect legitimate businesses from unfair competition."
During a search of Natarajan's property, almost £150,000 in cash was seized under the proceeds of crime act. In sentencing Natarajan, His Honour Judge Worsley QC said he had played a leading role from the outset, describing the fraud as being "sophisticated, persistent and prolonged".
Lakshmi Suresh of 4 Stormount Drive, Hayes, pleaded guilty to her role in the fraud and was sentenced to a term of 12 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £10,000 compensation to HMRC.
By Neil Gerrard
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