A service station attendant was among seven tobacco fraudsters who have been jailed for evading almost £760,000 in tax.
The men were linked to the crime after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) uncovered their central storage unit in Bolton, Greater Manchester and caught some of the gang there in April 2014.
During the investigation, HMRC officers identified a number of vehicles being used to transport illegal cigarettes around the North West region. The vehicles were observed travelling to and from a commercial unit on Hacken Lane in Bolton.
Following the arrest of one driver and the search of his van, HMRC officers entered the industrial unit and discovered more than three million smuggled ‘Pride’ brand cigarettes hidden in 80 metal tubes.
HMRC carried out further searches in Greater Manchester, London and Lincolnshire and arrested the gang members including Munaf Patel 47, a service station attendant, of Blackburn Road, Bolton, Greater Manchester.
The seven men pleaded guilty before trial to the evasion of £757,765 in UK Excise Duty and were jailed for a total of 11 years and four months, with Patel receiving a 12-month sentence. Four of the men now face confiscation proceedings to recover their criminal profits and the stolen tax.
Richard Wentel, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Our investigation proved that these men were at the centre of a criminal network evading hundreds of thousands of pounds in tax to line their own pockets.
“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2bn a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders. The sale of illegal cigarettes or tobacco will not be tolerated."
Anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco products can contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000 to report it.