Bilston lorry driver jailed over bid to smuggle nine million cigarettes into UK
A lorry driver who tried to smuggle almost nine million cigarettes into the UK has been jailed for three years.
David George claimed he was delivering textiles when he was discovered with the cigarettes.
If he had been successful George would have evaded paying £1.6million in duty, a court was told.
He was part of a 'sophisiticated high value smuggling operation', a court heard, and played a 'significant' role.
The 59-year-old, from Prouds Lane, Bilston, was caught arriving in Humberside on a ferry from Rotterdam.
Officers discovered 33 pallets containing 8,788,600 mixed-brand cigarettes.
The self-employed driver was stopped at the Humber port of Killingholme in April 2011.
But instead of there being a large haul of textiles in the lorry, police discovered the millions of cigarettes.
George, who trades as Lyndai International Transport, was arrested and interviewed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators.
A search of his home revealed further quantities of goods smuggled from China including cigars, hand-rolling tobacco and cigarettes not legally available in the UK.
After a trial at Grimsby Crown Court George was found guilty of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty.
He was immediately sentenced to three years in prison and also ordered to pay costs of £1,600.
During sentencing, Judge David Tremberg described the defendant as a 'foot-soldier in a sophisticated, high value smuggling operation' who was 'significant, substantial and indispensible'.
After the hearing HMRC said it welcomed the sentence handed down to George.
Assistant director Jo Tyler said: "George used his knowledge of the haulage industry to set up a large-scale smuggling operation.
"He was only out to make a quick profit, without concern for the consequences on the livelihoods of honest shopkeepers.
"This sentence should send a clear message to those attempting to avoid paying their dues that the penalties can be severe."
The smuggled cigarettes have since been destroyed.
The sentencing comes just weeks after thousands of potentially lethal fake cigarettes were seized in a trading standards crackdown in Wolverhampton.
Council officers targeted businesses across the city believed to have been selling illegal tobacco products.
During the two-day operation they uncovered 25,000 counterfeit and duty free cigarettes and 3kg of illegal chewing tobacco.
Sniffer dogs were used to detect stashes hidden in furniture, freezers and clothing.
Action is now being taken against the owners of the premises where counterfeit goods were found and further investigations will be carried out to identify their suppliers.
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