A lorry driver caught smuggling 2.9 million cigarettes into the UK, hidden under a load of half-baked mouldy baguettes, has been jailed for four years and three months after being extradited from Romania by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Simion Bocan, 23, of Transylvania, Romania, was stopped by Border Force officers at Dover Eastern Docks on 6 October 2015. Bocan told officers the lorry’s trailer unit contained 30 pallets of frozen baguettes. But the soggy, raw and mouldy bread was being used to hide boxes loaded with 2,948,160 ‘Regal King-Size’ cigarettes worth £788,249 in evaded duty.

Evidence gathered during the HMRC investigation suggests a trial run was made, using the same bread, a few days earlier.

A European Arrest Warrant was issued after Bocan fled from the UK while on bail. He was extradited from Romania in July 2016 and remanded in custody.

Bocan pleaded not guilty to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty at Maidstone Crown Court on 31 August 2016, but changed his plea to admit guilt on 8 December 2016. He was jailed immediately for four years and three months.

Her Honour Judge Williams said: “This sentencing reflects the serious criminal behaviour, failure to answer bail, and this being a sophisticated operation.”

Alan Tully, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Bocan smuggled a substantial quantity of illegal cigarettes into the UK. He fled the country to try to avoid paying for his crimes. However, no one is beyond HMRC’s reach, and with the co-operation of our overseas partners he is now behind bars.

“HMRC continues to work with other enforcement agencies at home and abroad to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco, which costs the UK around £2.4 billion a year, steals from communities and harms the livelihood of legitimate retailers. We encourage anyone with information regarding the smuggling, storage or sale of illegal tobacco to contact our 24-hour hotline on 0800 595000.”