The leader of a gang which evaded £1.8 million in excise duty has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Paramjit “Pete” Bagri, from Holywell, north Wales, masterminded a gang which bought alcohol from legitimate bonded warehouses under the pretence of shipping them to the continent, then illegally diverted the shipments to the UK market.

Mike O’Grady, assistant director of criminal investigation at HM Revenue & Customs said: “This was a calculated attempt to defraud the public purse and to personally profit from the illegal trade. 

“HMRC is committed to protecting public finances from attacks by organised crime, and the extra £917 million invested in HMRC will help us step up this fight. Anyone with information relating to this type of crime should contact the Customs hotline on 0800 59 5000 to help us stamp it out.”

On sentencing, His Honour Judge Steiger said: “This was an ingenious and complex fraud and I am satisfied that Bagri was top of the tree.”

Former pub landlord Richard “Gerry” Ellis, from Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester and Mohammed Ajmal Tariq, of Bathgate, Scotland, were also in the gang and are in jail after being sentenced for their parts in the fraud in July.

Three other men – including Baldeep Singh Tahkar of Billingham, Cleveland, who was co-owner of two off-licences, Booze For You in Billingham and Lifestyle Express in Hartlepool – pleaded guilty before the trial started. Tahkar was sentenced to 16 months in prison in July.