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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jim Budd

On 14 August, 290 Customs & Excise officers launched Operation Fulcrum, raiding over 50 addresses in England and Wales in an operation designed to deliver a major blow to the illicit alcohol trade'. Nine arrests were made but no charges pressed, although the after-effects of raids have made life difficult for some bonded warehouses. HM Customs & Excise alleges that a number of businesses involved in the ownership, warehousing and transport of duty-free alcohol have systematically defrauded the Revenue of over 30 million', with alcohol supposedly for export to mainland Europe diverted for sale in the UK. Among the bonded warehouses raided were Trapps Cellars Ltd and those in the Seabrook Freight Group. Harpers understands that Trapps was raided by officers from the Drugs Squad, who removed all the company's paperwork, computers and its fax. John Davis, director of Trapps, has written to his customers complaining that over-zealous officers, brought in from other sections of HMC&E, have removed a great deal of data that had no bearing whatever on the investigation'. Harpers understands that, despite writing to the chairman of Customs & Excise, the company still hasn't had any documents returned or copies provided. Naturally, this has created severe problems for Trapps. Another warehouse manager said that the raids had been totally over the top'. All this year's files have been removed - both documents for goods coming in and going out, when what they are looking at are the goods going out. Some of the paperwork coming back to us from the Continent is said to be fraudulent, but we cannot check because Customs & Excise has all the files.' A Customs & Excise spokesman told Harpers, We take great steps not to hinder legitimate businesses, but obviously law enforcement has to take priority.'