A Lancashire man has been jailed for four years and nine months for evading more than £2 million in taxes by trading in illegal tobacco.

Lee Foster, 49, of Highfield Close, Oswaldtwistle, was caught by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) buying illegal cigarettes and tobacco to sell on during a surveillance operation in 2014.

He was jailed for his part in a £16.5 million Excise Duty fraud that centred on a criminal network based in Blackburn.

Detailed records kept by the gang leader, Iqbal Haji, of Blackburn, mention Foster 183 times buying illegal tobacco products to sell on during a four-year period.

Foster was arrested at Manchester Airport on 21 December 2016 as he returned from holiday in Tenerife.

Sandra Smith, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Foster was a middleman for this illegal tobacco ring. He was a regular customer of Haji and fully involved in trading in smuggled goods that damage legitimate sales from honest shops. Middleman like Foster are essential to organised criminal gangs, allowing them to hide the scale of their illegal trade.

“We urge anyone with information about the blackmarket in smuggled cigarettes to contact us on 0800 788 887. We are determined to create a level playing field for local businesses by disrupting the illegal trade and punishing the fraudsters. Your call could help us dismantle another criminal network.”

Foster was jailed for four years and nine months on 23 June 2017 at Preston Crown Court. He admitted evading more than £2 million for his part in the fraud.

This is the fifth customer of Haji’s to be jailed. Three were jailed alongside Haji in May 2016 and a fourth, John Bailey, of Middleton, Manchester, was jailed for 12 months in May 2017.