'Innocent and unlucky' driver's truck liable to forfeiture to the Revenue Commissioners after 7m cigarettes seized
An “unlucky and innocent” truck driver, who collected a container of more than 7 million illegal cigarettes without having knowledge of its content, has been told by a judge that his articulated truck was liable to forfeiture to the Revenue Commissioners.
Circuit Court President Mr Justice Raymond Groarke said he understood that truck driver Robert Hughes had no ability to open the seal of the container, but the Revenue Commissioners was entitled under the finance laws to forfeiture of his truck, as it was used to convey prohibited goods.
Judge Groarke heard in the Circuit Civil Court that in July 2012, customs officers at Dublin Port kept a close eye on a refrigerated container, which had been on board the ‘Mazarine’ ship, after the consignment had been earlier routinely scanned.
Retired Revenue Commissioners and Customs and Excise officer Bernard Brien told the court that when he and some colleagues decided to inspect the container, they found numerous boxes with cartons of cigarettes.
Brien told barrister Conor Bourke, for the Revenue, that they resealed the container which was a few hours later collected by Hughes. The truck had been about to leave when it was stopped by the officers.
The court heard Hughes agreed to drive the truck to a customs depot where officers opened the seal again. A full search of the container revealed 7,128,000 illegal cigarettes, which were seized.
Hughes had been interviewed and his truck, valued at the time at €12,000, had also been seized.
Judge Groarke was told that Hughes had claimed he had been offered a job to collect the container and had no knowledge of the illegal cigarettes. He had not been prosecuted following an investigation.
Mr Bourke said the Revenue then issued a notice of seizure of the truck, which Mr Hughes had challenged. The truck driver claimed only his truck had been seized and not, for instance, the ship.
The Revenue then issued court proceedings, as required by the law, against truck owner KVR Transport Ltd and driver Hughes, both of Oberstown, Lusk, Co Dublin.
Hughes claimed he had been an unlucky middle party caught up in the incident. The court heard he had no entitlement to open the seal.
Judge Groarke ordered the forfeiture of the truck, which will be sold by Revenue, and made no order regarding legal costs.