The Durham ringleaders of a tobacco smuggling gang, who hid illicit cigarettes in lighting units and laptop adapters in an attempt to smuggle them into the UK through the post, have been jailed for a total of 76 months.

Guo Shan Zhang, 34, and his serial offending accomplice, Shan Jing Su, 31, led the nine-strong gang in smuggling non-duty paid tobacco products from China, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The pair arranged for parcels containing the hidden cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco to be sent to addresses across the North East where they would be collected from their accomplices.

HM Revenue and Customs uncovered the fraud after approximately 500 parcels containing more than 1.8 million cigarettes and 100kg of hand rolling tobacco worth an excise duty loss of £472,452 were stopped as they entered the UK.

Denis Kerr, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“This was a brazen and sustained attack on the UK taxpayer by a highly organised criminal gang. Zhang and Su thought they had come up with a clever way to beat the system – they were very wrong.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the taxpayer around £2 billion a year. We will not allow hardworking, honest retailers to be harmed by criminal gangs selling illegal goods and we are determined to ensure there is a level playing field. I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Today, Zhang and Su, were handed jail sentences of 36 months and 40 months respectively for conspiracy to evade excise duty.

Their fellow gang members were also convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty.