Cigarette smugglers receive prison sentences
Three men have been sent to prison after they were caught with more than 1.5 million illegal cigarettes disguised as road surfacing material at a South Shields warehouse.
Yiannakis Theodorou, of Halford Close, Attleborough, Norfolk, Danut Nastasescu and Stanel Oprisan, both of Romania, were found hiding inside the unit on Middlefields Industrial Estate when HMRC officers uncovered the illegal haul, worth £526,397 in unpaid duty. Officers searched the premises on Throckley Way in March and discovered 24 pallets loaded with packages containing 1,508,300 non-UK duty-paid cigarettes.
The cigarettes were hidden in wooden containers coated in bitumen, often used for road surfaces, and wrapped in packaging. The three men were found hiding at the back of the unit and were arrested.
Investigations revealed Theodorou arranged the import and distribution of the cigarettes and he was found hiding between trucks parked inside the unit when HMRC searched the premises. Nastasescu and Oprisan travelled from Romania to unpack the illegal goods.
The men admitted excise fraud during a trial hearing at Newcastle Crown Court on 20 August. Theodorou was sentenced to three years, and Nastasescu and Oprisan to 15 months in prison.
Alison Chipperton, assistant director, fraud investigation service, at HMRC, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the streets with illicit cigarettes and con taxpayers out of money that should be used to fund our vital public services. The trio thought they could hide and wouldn’t get caught, but they were wrong.”