Two men caught with an illegal shipment of tobacco at a Kent industrial estate have been jailed for a total of five-and-a-half years after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Bob Lee, 43, from Maidstone, and Benjamin Brazil, 29, from Sittingbourne, were arrested when they were caught by HMRC officers unloading 1.3 tonnes of Turner Blue tobacco off a lorry at a Rochester industrial estate on 3 October 2016.

The tobacco, which had been smuggled into the UK, was seized by officers and the duty evaded was £262,000.

Lorry driver and ex-special forces soldier Steven Skender, 43, from Croatia, also arrested at the site, told officers he was taking a break at a service station on the Luxembourg-German border on 1 October 2016, when he was approached by a man who offered him £1,000 to transport 10 boxes of tobacco to the UK. This is known as “window tapping”.

Skender said window tapping, where drivers are asked to transport illegal goods to the UK in return for cash, is a frequent occurrence and that he had been approached on numerous occasions to do it, but had declined. He said he agreed to do it this time as he was offered £1,000, which would help pay for car repairs.

Skender had previously pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of duty and is due to be sentenced at a later date.

Bob Lee and Benjamin Brazil denied a charge of fraudulent evasion of duty but were found guilty after a two-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court. Bob Lee was jailed for three-and-a-half years and Benjamin Brazil was jailed for two years.

Brett Wilkinson, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These men thought they could make money smuggling and selling illicit tobacco while stealing from UK taxpayers. Tobacco fraudsters are costing the UK around £2.5bn a year in lost taxes and undermining legitimate, local businesses.

“We are disrupting the distribution of illicit tobacco across the UK and I urge anyone who is offered cheap products to report it online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.”