Three men who were caught unloading more than three million illegal cigarettes that had been hidden in air conditioning units, have been jailed for more than 11 years.

The gang, who were under surveillance by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators, were arrested as the smuggled cigarettes were delivered at industrial units in Brandon, Suffolk. Arnoldas Gefel, 27, and Tomas Mazilius, 35, were arrested at the site. A third man Mantas Vasylius, 28, was arrested at home.

Shop owner Manta Vasylius from Thetford in Norfolk was jailed for five years. Shop assistant Arnoldas Gefel, also from Thetford, was given three years and four months. Tomas Maziulis from Leicester was jailed for three years and two months.

Paul Barton, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “This gang were caught taking delivery of millions of smuggled cigarettes which they wrongly thought were well hidden inside air conditioning units. Not only does this type of criminal activity harm the livelihoods of honest shopkeepers but it is estimated to cost the UK economy £2bn a year in much needed revenue that should be funding public services. Don’t let criminals profit – report it.

“Anyone with information about the storage or sale of illegal tobacco in their area should contact the Customs hotline on 0800 595000.”