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Chemicals company prosecuted for export control violations

HM Revenue & Customs has prosecuted a Leicestershire company for illegally shipping controlled chemicals and metal to foreign territories, despite being refused an export licence.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators discovered VWR International Ltd, a global business involved in the distribution of laboratory products, exported a package of sodium sulphide, a compound that can be used to synthesise Mustard Gas, to a customer in Pakistan, days after being denied the necessary licence.

It came in September 2015 after the Department for International Trade (DIT) referred the case to HMRC, when the Lutterworth-based company’s licence application was refused.

It led to staff from VWR being interviewed under caution by HMRC officers in May 2016 and February 2017, but despite this action, two further shipments containing chemicals destined for Jordan and South Africa and a fourth contained a metal, Hafnium, which is used in the nuclear industry. All three consignments were intercepted at the border. On each occasion, the company failed to apply for the required export licence.

Matthew Palmer, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“VWR knew a licence was required to export sodium sulphide, but the company failed to heed the warnings and our wider investigation found there had been a serious failings within the company’s internal compliance systems. “

“HMRC takes action against those that refuse or fail to comply with regulations which are put in place to protect society against serious threats of harm. In the wrong hands, chemicals and metals such as these can have devastating consequences.

“I would urge anyone with information on those involved in illegally exporting goods to report it to HMRC online, or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

International Trade Minister, Graham Stuart, said:

“This Government will always take action against anyone who flouts our export controls. We take our export responsibilities very seriously, operating one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.”

VWR was later charged with 4 counts of exporting goods contrary to a prohibition or restriction. The company pleaded guilty to the charges and were fined a total of £ 7,039 at City of London Magistrates Court, today (21 November 2018).

Export control legislation is enforced by HMRC and the Crown Prosecution Service. Penalties for deliberately evading export controls can include fines and up to ten years’ imprisonment.

For general export control queries please contact the Export Control Joint Unit’s Helpline on 020 7215 4594 or

Business Awareness Unit  Export Control Joint Unit

Categories: Enforcement Actions Export Control Export Control Organization (ECO)


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