The leaders of a cigarette smuggling gang, who evaded almost £1.2m in taxes, have been jailed after they were caught with more than three million illegal cigarettes.

Derby men Alan Rashid, 33, and Goran Mohamed Ahmed, 34, masterminded the operation to smuggle and distribute illegal cigarettes over a four-year period along with gang member Hiwa Kadar, 34, of West Bromwich.

The two ringleaders have been jailed for a total of nine years after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) along with Derbyshire County Council’s Trading Standards.

The three men were caught dealing with a delivery of 3,120,200 Mayfair cigarettes when HMRC officers raided a yard in Brickhouse Lane, West Bromwich, in September 2014.

Further addresses linked to Rashid and Ahmed were raided and more illegal goods were found. Officers found 30,000 Richman cigarettes and 103.7kg of hand rolling tobacco at a unit on the Queens Court Trading Estate in West Bromwich.

An invoice found at Ahmed’s home led HMRC to a container at a storage facility in Ilkeston where they found 295,800 cigarettes and 32.2kg of hand rolling tobacco.

Another 270,000 Mayfair cigarettes were found in a van parked outside the Brickhouse Lane yard, while Rashid’s car contained small amounts of various cigarette types that appeared to be samples.

Alan Rashid and Goran Ahmed were also linked to seizures of smuggled cigarettes going back to 2010.

These included when Derbyshire Police stopped a van driven by Rashid and owned by Ahmed that contained 84,800 Jin Lings cigarettes in October 2010 and Rashid was seen approaching a horsebox that HMRC found contained 750,000 illegal ATU Red cigarettes.

The total duty evaded in relation to seizures involving these individuals is £1,189,893.

Rashid and Ahmed were both jailed for four years six months at Derby Crown Court on Wednesday (July 26). Hiwa Kadar was sentenced to 10 months in prison suspended for 18 months, 120 hours unpaid work and a curfew between 8pm and 5am for three months.

Stuart Taylor, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a large-scale smuggling operation that will have caused serious harm to honest, hard-working businesses. These three have stolen funding from our public services and are now paying the price.

“HMRC continues to work with other enforcement agencies to tackle tobacco smugglers. And we encourage anyone with information about illegal cigarettes and tobacco to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Communities Councillor Carol Hart said: “Derbyshire County Council is committed to working with HMRC and other agencies to tackle illegal tobacco.

“This is an excellent example of how our trading standards officers work with partners to protect consumers, support legal businesses and take illicit tobacco off the streets.

“It’s an extremely important result which sends a clear message to illegitimate traders like these that they will not get away with it.”