Three men have been arrested, and illicit cigarettes and tobacco seized, after a raid by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into a suspected tobacco smuggling plot worth an estimated £2.4m.

Officers from HMRC, Essex Police and the National Crime Agency, seized 8.5 million cigarettes and 30kg of shisha tobacco as they were being unloaded from a container last Saturday (20 August 2014) at farmland in the Abridge area of Essex. The haul had arrived in the UK through London Gateway Docks from Dubai.

Officers also searched premises, in Loughton, Essex, and east London, seizing computers, mobile phones and paperwork.

The three men, two from Loughton, and one man from east London, all in their late 40s, were arrested on suspicion of tobacco smuggling under the Customs and Management Act 1979. They have been bailed until 27 November.

Martin Brown, assistant director of criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “Tobacco crime undermines legitimate producers and retailers, costs the UK taxpayer around £2bn a year in lost revenue and has a serious and detrimental impact on our communities. We encourage anyone with information about tobacco smuggling and fraud to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.”

Chief inspector Jon Hayter of Essex Police commented: “Essex Police regularly works with and supports other agencies. This was a successful result and an example of effective partnership work.”