Washington, Feb 15: On charges of conspiring to smuggle counterfeit cigarettes into the United States, two Indians have been sentenced to nearly two years of imprisonment by a federal court in Florida.
Besides Abhishek Shukla and Harish Shabhai Panchal, the two Indians, Jubilee Tobacco Industries Corp â- an India-based company â- was found guilty in the case. The company has been ordered to forfeit USD 300,000 to the US, the Department of Justice said today.
The three have pleaded guilty to the charges. According to the guilty plea, they conspired to import about 68,000 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes with the trade names and marks of popular American brand Newport cigarettes. Through internet negotiations, an agreement was reached for a 20-foot container filled with counterfeit Newport brand cigarettes to be shipped from India to Miami.
Payment for the shipment was made in instalments through international wire transfers to bank accounts in India and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On November 1, 2016, the container arrived and was seized at the Port of Miami with the assistance of US Customs and Border Protection Officers. If distributed in the State of Florida, the untaxed importation would have an approximate value of USD 1.2 million, the Department of Justice said. Analysis conducted by FDA's Forensic Chemistry Centre determined that the cartons, packs, and cigarettes were all counterfeit.
Within two weeks of the arrival, the co-conspirators sought out undercover agents offering another shipment, twice as large. By April 2017, deposits totalling USD 55,000 had been made for more counterfeit Newport cigarettes. On June 9 last, the container arrived at the Port of Miami and was again seized with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection Officers, and turned over to FDA-OCI Special Agents. If distributed in the State of Florida, the untaxed importation would have had an approximate value of USD 3.2 million. Shukla and Panchal travelled to Miami in August 2017 to meet with the undercover agents to promote further business dealings.
During the recorded meeting, they advised the agents that they had been partners for 12 years and personally oversaw the production of all the products being offered. They also assured the agents that they could counterfeit any American-made menthol cigarette without any problem, as well as other trademarked brands and that they could produce tobacco blends, which would closely match the legitimate product, federal prosecutors said.