A fugitive cigarette smuggler is behind bars after more than two years on the run.
Haroldas Bernotas, 25, was part of an organised gang who smuggled more than 12 million illegal cigarettes, worth £3.6m in duty and VAT, into the North East of England between 2013 and 2015.
Bernotas, of Radviliškis, Lithuania, fled the UK, but was convicted after a trial at Durham Crown Court in May 2018 and sentenced to two years in jail in his absence.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators tracked Bernotas to Lithuania where he was arrested on 6 June 2020.
On 10 July 2020, he appeared at Durham Crown Court where his two-year jail sentence was confirmed.
Nicol Sheppard, assistant director, Offender Management and Enforcement Team, HMRC, said: “Bernotas attempted to cheat justice, but even during lockdown HMRC has been working with partner authorities to relentlessly pursue fugitives of the law.
“Within seven days of his extradition being agreed with the Lithuanian authorities, our officers had extradited Bernotas back to the UK and he is now behind bars.”
Bernotas was initially arrested by HMRC officers in April 2015 after he and his fellow gang members were caught unloading a shipment of 1.2 million cigarettes at an industrial unit in Stanley, County Durham. The illegal goods were smuggled into the country concealed inside wooden cable drum discs.
Two men have already been jailed over the smuggling plot. Egidijus Kairys, of Forest Lane, London, received a three-year prison sentence in May 2018, while Kristupas Strasunskas, of Klaipėda, Lithuania, was jailed for 18 months.
Strasunskas fled to Lithuania before he was sentenced, but he was apprehended and brought back to the UK in January 2019 to serve his time in jail.
Two other members of the gang also failed to attend trial and are wanted by HMRC. They are:
- · Dainius Pranskaitis, 47, formerly of Muirkirk Road, London
- · Linas Bernotas, 48, of Radviliškis, Lithuania
Information about any type of tax fraud or the whereabouts of Dainius Pranskaitis and Linas Bernotas can also be reported to HMRC online at www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business