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20 million counterfeit cigarettes seized

PUBLISHED: 13:54 13 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:14 06 July 2010

An estimated 20 million illegal and suspected as counterfeit cigarettes have been seized after a joint covert surveillance operation led to an industrial estate in Essex.

An estimated 20 million illegal and suspected as counterfeit cigarettes have been seized after a joint covert surveillance operation led to an industrial estate in Essex.

The cigarettes were confiscated by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) officers yesterday evening. The potential duty lost is estimated as £3.4 million.

Acting on SOCA intelligence, HMRC investigators followed a container supposedly full of toys and games from the Port of Felixstowe to Tilbury.

The container was then driven to an industrial unit in Upminster, Essex where officers moved in and arrested four men who were in the process of unloading the smuggled cigarettes. A second container with the same delivery address and illegal load was detained at Felixstowe.

During the course of the evening officers searched eight other premises and made three further arrests. Seven people have been bailed to return for further questioning at a later date while enquiries are ongoing.

John Kay, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation HMRC said: “The sheer quantity involved in this attempt suggests that these cigarettes could have ended up in locations across the UK. If it had been successful, it would have undermined honest traders who only sell duty paid tobacco products. We have prevented UK consumers from being conned into buying cigarettes which are counterfeit and could have posed an even more serious risk to health than legitimate brands.

“The huge profits reaped from the sales of these cigarettes would have been ploughed straight back into the criminal underworld, feeding activities like drug dealing and fraud. Buying cheap, smuggled cigarettes isn't a bargain - it means trading with criminals."

Andy Sellers, SOCA Deputy Director, said: “Don't be conned into believing that cigarette smuggling is a bit of harmless entrepreneurship which saves people money - that's just what criminals want you to think. The reality is that profits from illegal cigarettes fund serious organised crime on the ground. Seizures like this are a vital way of denying criminals the cash they need to operate, and preventing harm to communities everywhere. Not only that, cheating the Treasury means taking cash out of the pockets of every honest taxpayer - these people are intent on robbing all of us.”

Members of the public with information about smuggling can contact HMRC's hotline on 0800 59 5000.


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