The jailed ringleader of an illegal cigarette network in Blackburn has been ordered to pay back £478,693.

Former postmaster Iqbal Haji, of Whalley Street, Blackburn, was ordered to repay the money within three months, or face a further four years behind bars and still owe the money.

The 52-year-old was jailed for six years in May 2016 for Excise Duty evasion and money laundering offences, following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Haji kept meticulous sales records in two ‘dealer’ books at his Blackburn home. The details have, so far, led to seven of Haji’s customers being convicted and sentenced to a total of more than 14 years.

When HMRC officers searched Haji’s home in September 2014, they seized illegal cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco and criminal cash. They also discovered meticulous records he kept of his illegal trade, dating back to 2010. They revealed the network evaded more than £16m of duty. The books revealed three of his main customers were Keith Allen, 68, James Willmott, 56, both of Accrington and Wayne Brown, 53, of Darwen. A further four men have also been convicted with all seven customers jailed for a total of 14 years.

Allen and Willmott have repaid more than £100,000. Brown has paid back £60,000 and HMRC are still pursuing him for the remainder of the £67,616 he was ordered to hand back in October 2017. Further confiscation court hearings are due to take place for other convicted members of the network.

Haji was ordered to pay the money back at Preston Crown Court this week. His assets were found to include two houses in Blackburn, a BMW F80 M3 car worth £61,000, savings in bank accounts and hidden assets totalling £41,000.

Debbie Porter, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “We will not allow criminals like Haji to profit from crime and will do all we can to recover their ill-gotten gains. Haji kept detailed records, which helped us dismantle this criminal network and assisted our investigation.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which steals from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders. Anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco can report it to us online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.”