Norfolk man jailed after being caught with more than 1.5 million illegal cigarettes
PUBLISHED: 13:29 24 August 2018 | UPDATED: 13:29 24 August 2018
A Norfolk man who was caught with more than 1.5 million illegal cigarettes disguised as road surfacing material in a warehouse has been jailed.
Yiannakis Theodorou, 48, was one of three men found hiding at the back of a unit at an industrial estate in South Shields, near Newcastle when HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers swooped.
They uncovered the illegal haul, worth £526,397 in unpaid duty, during the raid when they discovered 24 pallets loaded with packages containing a total of 1,508,300 non-paid UK duty-paid cigarettes.
The cigarettes were hidden in wooden containers coated in bitumen, which is often used for road surfaces, and then wrapped in packaging.
Theodorou, of Halford Close, Attleborough, was sentenced to three years in prison after he admitted excise fraud at Newcastle Crown Court.
Danut Nastasescu, 48, and Stanel Oprisan, 26, both of Romania, were also found hiding inside the unit on Middlefields Industrial Estate following the raid in March this year.
They were both sentenced to 15 months in prison after also admitting excise fraud.
Investigations revealed Theodorou arranged the import and distribution of the cigarettes.
He was found hiding between lorries parked inside the unit when HMRC searched the premises.
Nastasescu and Oprisan travelled from Romania to unpack the illegal goods.
Speaking after the court hearing, Alison Chipperton, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at HMRC, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the streets with illicit cigarettes and con taxpayers out of money which should be used to fund our vital public services.
“The trio thought they could hide and wouldn’t get caught, but they were wrong.
“These men stole enough money to pay the salaries for 26 new police officers for a year.
“Anyone with information about tax fraud should report it to HMRC online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Information about tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at https://www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business.