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Smugglers jailed over £3.5m Belgium to Leeds tobacco haul

Smugglers jailed over £3.5m Belgium to Leeds tobacco haul

Members of a gang avoided £3.5m in tax by smuggling tobacco into the UK have been jailed.

The defendants, all from Leeds, were caught after a Belgian lorry that had delivered to a warehouse in the city was stopped at Dover.

The lorry was found to contain almost £500,000 in cash, hidden in holdalls in the back of ovens.

Packets of em@il-brand cigarettes, which are not permitted for sale in the UK, were also found.

In total, the lorry load could have concealed more than six million cigarettes, with the potential to evade over £1.5m in tax, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

‘Millions of cigarettes’
Another business was also searched and seven-and-a-half million illegal Excellence-branded cigarettes, worth about £2m in duty, were found, along with counterfeit Palace cigarettes and Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia tobacco.

On other occasions, the defendants were seen handing over holdalls of cash to each other containing tens of thousands of pounds.

Michelle Rhodes, from the CPS, said: “These defendants arranged for millions of cigarettes to be brought back to the UK from Europe knowing that there was money to be made in avoiding paying tax and subsequently selling them on.”

Geoffrey Moon, 53, was jailed for seven years. Sean Hirst, 52, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

Paul Heselgrave, Anthony Quennan and Gerard McKeown all received suspended sentences after admitting conspiring to cheat the public revenue.

Moon and Hirst denied the same charges but were convicted by a jury.