A Nigerian man, Oladipupo Fagbewesa, has been ordered to pay approximately N15 million (£26,835) by the United Kingdom (U.K.) tribunal in relation to 61,800 cigarettes detected in his bag.
Fagbewesa, who was returning from Lagos to Heathrow Airport on Friday, February 14, 2020, was charged on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to determine if he was the owner of the seized cigarettes. The computation is included in a 5% discount for cooperation.
HMRC issued a Notice of Assessment to the appellant in the amount of £26,835 in accordance with Sections 25(1) of the Finance Act 2003 and 8(1) of the Finance Act 1994. For the purposes of the appeal, Joshua Carey, counsel to the HMRC, submitted that the revenue outfit accepted that if the court found that the cigarettes did not belong to Fagbewesa, the penalty would fall away.
Counsel for Fagbewesa, Macpherson Mickel, admitted that if the tribunal concludes that Fagbewesa was the owner of the cigarettes, then dishonesty will follow.
In his argument, Mickel told the court that the luggage was out of Fagbewesa’s control from Tuesday, February 11, 2020, when they were checked in at Lagos airport, until Saturday, February 15, 2020, when they were returned to him.
Mickel claimed that Fagbewesa did not put cigarettes in the baggage and that they were not present when he checked in at Lagos International Airport.
He further claimed that speculation about how the smoke ended up in the bags was unrelated to the inquiry and that HMRC did not meet the burden of showing that Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes.
However, HMRC attorney Joshua Carey stated that the story of not owning the cigarettes was “made up in order to avoid the penalty.”
The tribunal judge, Abigail Mcgregor, held that Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes taken from his baggage and upheld the penalty.
“As we have noted, we found Fagbewesa’s oral evidence to be inconsistent. A period of just shy of three years had elapsed between the flight into the UK and the hearing of the appeal, and therefore, an element of lost memory is to be expected,” the court stated.
“However, the inconsistency extended to questions asked with only minutes in between during his oral evidence. He was evasive when being asked questions that would lead to him having to give inconsistent answers, and he gave as little information in response to questions as he could.
“Put simply, we did not believe that he did not own the cigarettes. We find, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr. Fagbewesa owned the cigarettes that were seized from his bags. As noted above, having found ownership, dishonesty, and liability for the penalty follows automatically.
“We also find that a reduction of 5% for the amount of co-operation given, being only sending back the signed letter, was a reasonable reduction. Therefore, the penalty stands.”
The judge added that any party dissatisfied with this decision has a right to apply for permission to appeal against it pursuant to Rule 39 of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Tax Chamber) Rules 2009.
The application must, however, be received by the tribunal not later than 56 days after the decision is sent to that party.