A Hull shopkeeper, who was caught with more than one million illicit cigarettes stashed in self-storage containers, has been jailed for five years after being investigated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Aras Rasul Rashid, of Spring Bank, Hull, was caught when sniffer dogs detected the haul of illicit goods during a joint operation between HMRC and Border Force at a self-storage container site in Hull, in 2015.
Officers seized 1,110,040 mixed branded cigarettes and 736kg of hand-rolling tobacco from two containers at Titan Containers AC, Freightliner Road, which were rented by Rashid. Duty had not been paid on the goods.
The 40-year-old’s flat was searched and £15,220 cash was found. Officers also searched the Bekhal General Store, on Spring Bank, Hull, which he ran.
In September 2015 further investigations found a man, using a drop-side transit van owned by Rashid, went to collect a consignment of 340,800 Red Golden Dragon cigarettes that had been shipped from Greece. The cigarettes were worth £82,235 in unpaid duty but had been seized by Border Force as they were entering the UK.
Two similar deliveries, worth an estimated £97,726.50 in duty evaded, were made during the same month. All three consignments were falsely labelled as marine plywood.
The total duty evaded on all the goods was estimated at £670,000.
Rashid was arrested at Stansted Airport by Essex Police in May 2016 after he arrived back in the UK from Rygge, Norway. He was found guilty of conspiracy to evade excise duty on 13 December 2017 following a two-day trial at Hull Crown Court, and was sentenced to five years in prison at the same court on 9 March.
Edmundas Smiltniekas, 37, of Freeman Road, Gravesend, Kent, was also sentenced for his involvement in the plot. Investigators found his fingerprints on boxes inside the self-storage containers. He said he packed cigarettes into boxes in South East London before they were sent to Hull.
He admitted handling and packing the illegal cigarettes in July 2017 and was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, and 250 hours unpaid work.
One other suspect who failed to attend court is currently being pursued by HMRC.
Confiscation proceedings are now under way.
Sandra Smith, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the streets with illicit tobacco. Rashid thought it was acceptable to line his pockets with money which should have been used to fund our public services and now he is paying the price behind bars.
“The trade in illicit tobacco harms legitimate businesses. I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.”