Crime

Two Indians Face Charge of Smuggling Cigarettes to US

Abhishek Shukla and Harish Shabhai Panchal conspired to smuggle large shipments of counterfeit cigarettes to Miami.

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Two Indians, Abhishek Shukla and Harish Shabhai Panchal, have been charged by a federal court in Florida for allegedly trying to smuggle counterfeit cigarettes into the United States.

The accused appeared in a federal court in Miami to be formally charged along with two companies, Jubilee Tobacco Industries Corp. and Pelican Tobacco (India) Private Limited, which are incorporated under the laws of India, with the indictment charging them with conspiring to smuggle the cigarettes into America, PTI reported.

Smuggling Cigarettes

Shukla and Panchal face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to                        $ 500,000, the Department of Justice said. The court records revealed that the two contacted a third person, who was cooperating with the Federal Drug Administration, and offered him counterfeit cigarettes.

The accused and the third person agreed on a 20-foot container that was shipped from India to Miami, laden with counterfeit Newport brand cigarettes.The negotiations were done through the internet and the payment was made in instalments through international wire transfers to bank accounts in Dubai and India.

The selling price of un-taxed cigarettes would have totalled to an approximate value of $ 1.2 million. But when the container arrived in the US in November 2016, it was seized with the assistance the US Customs and Border Protection Officers at the Port of Miami.

Federal Agents Two Steps Ahead

After this, the accused conspired with undercover law enforcement agents to bring in another shipment, which was double the size of the previous one. This was agreed upon within two weeks of the arrival of the first shipment.

By April this year, an amount totalling $ 55,000 had been deposited to accounts in the name of Pelican for the counterfeit cigarettes. FDA’S  Forensic Chemistry Center analysed and concluded that the cigarettes were all counterfeit.

Then in June, yet another shipment arrived at the Port of Miami, which was again seized by the Customs and Border Protection Officers and handed over to FDA special agents.

Caught and Charged

These un-taxed cigarettes would have an approximate value of $3.2 million, if distributed, the department said. Earlier this month, the accused arrived in Miami to meet the undercover agents to discuss future business dealings. During the meeting, which was being recorded, they revealed that they had been partners for more than a decade and they themselves oversaw all the products being sold.

The accused also told the undercover federal agents that they can counterfeit any American-made menthol cigarette and trademarked brands, and that they can also make tobacco blends, which closely match the legitimate product, the court papers claimed.

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