A gang of eleven Lithuanian nationals have been sentenced to a combined 28 years in prison, after smuggling illegal cigarettes into the UK.
The group were foiled, following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), after shipping the contraband into the UK from Belgium, in window frames, textiles and bags of charcoal.
HMRC investigators initially intercepted a shipping container in Cambridgeshire on 15 September 2016, that concealed over three million non-UK duty paid cigarettes inside.
Nine people were arrested in connection with the find.
A further seven million cigarettes were then seized by HMRC at a warehouse in Catfield, Norfolk on 4 October, 2016 and two people were arrested.
There are a further nine previous importations linked to the gang that are all believed to have contained illegal cigarettes.
Alison Chipperton, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, said:
“This was a multi-million pound illicit business involving a close-knit gang of criminals.
"The logistics were planned meticulously, trackers were used on consignments, mobile phones were changed regularly and only trusted people were in on the plot.
“Several members of the group tried desperately to frustrate our investigations, providing false names, leaving the country and failing to attend court, but justice has now been served.
“The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies.
"Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.8 billion a year.
"This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Seven gang members were convicted of conspiracy to evade excise duty, while four pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade excise duty at court hearings at Southwark Crown Court.
The first seven offenders are listed below:
- Darius Pavliukovas, 35, sentenced to five years.
- Vaidas Mockevicius, 33, sentenced to three years.
- Jana Dobrovolskiene, 42, sentenced to two year and six months.
- Ieva Zamblauskaite, 29, sentenced to two years, suspended for two years.
- Deividas Jankys, 33, sentenced to two years and eight months.
- Mantvydas Seidvarkas, 37, sentenced to one year and nine months.
- Romas Urbonas, 48, sentenced in absence to two years and six months.
The latter four are listed as follows:
- Mantas Veniukevicius, 32, sentenced to four years.
- Zilvinas Urbonas, 44, sentenced to two years and three months.
- Edmundas Jankys, 35, sentenced to three years.
- Rasa Zamblauskaite, 53, sentenced to a 12-month community order.
Veniukevicius was described as the gang leader according to the court hearing, while Edmundas Jankys and Pavliukovas were were players in the plot.
(Mantas Veniukevicius (L) led the gang while Edmundas Jankys (c) and Pavliukovas (r) were major players in the operation. Picture credits: HMRC)
A number of the defendants tried to flee the UK prior to conviction, such as Mockevicius and Veniukevicius.
Edmundas Jankys had been deported, but was arrested in January 2019, after breaching his deportation order by returning to the UK.
Following sentencing the illegal cigarettes are to be destroyed.