Driver linked to £17m cigarette smuggling gang jailed for three years
A father-of-two involved in a £17 million cigarette smuggling racket was starting a three-year jail sentence today.
Kristian Piechota collected scores of the consignments after they arrived in this country between October 2010 and November 2013, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.
They were misdescribed as goods that, unlike cigarettes, do not have duty to be paid to the Revenue and Customs when imported into the UK, explained Mr Simon Davis, prosecuting.
The smuggled cigarettes and rolling tobacco were seized on nine occasions but another 56 trips got through without being spotted.
They were variously disguised as tins of coffee, cash safes, peas and energy saving light bulbs.
The 38-year-old defendant – who had £20,000 cash in his car when stopped by police on the M40 in September 2013 – played a significant role in transporting the smuggled goods and money and was under surveillance for a considerable period.
Names of companies that legitimately imported the items supposedly making up the content of the bogus delivery were “hijacked” and adopted by the crooks, continued Mr Davis.
Investigators found £90,000 cash hidden in the cab of a stationary lorry at Dover shortly after Piechota was seen climbing into the cab with a holdall which he did not have when he left.
The lorry driver was arrested with the money soon afterwards and the fingerprints of the defendant was found on the notes.
Handsets and associated SIM and top up cards linked to the crime ring were discovered at the home, in Grace Road, Tipton, where he was living at the time during a search on October 4, 2013, the court was told.
Smuggled cigarettes were also found hidden under a bed.
Mr Davis concluded: “He was entrusted to carry a significant numbers of cigarettes and large amounts of money."
Successful seizures included two-and-a-half million smuggled cigarettes found at an industrial estate in Sunderland where the haul had been taken from a storage unit in Ruislip on May 31, 2013, while 1,250,000 were seized at an address in Edgbaston in December 2012, the prosecutor said.
Belgian customs officers unearthed one million cigarettes in tins supposedly full of coffee.
Mr John O’Higgins, defending, maintained Piechota was “acting under direction”, not an organiser, and claimed evidential material found at the Tipton address did not belong to him.
The lawyer suggested the £20,000 being carried by the defendant when arrested may have come from a chain of Polish delicatessen shops in which he was also involved.
Piechota, now living in Reeves Crescent, Swanley, Kent, pleaded guilty to avoiding duty on smuggled cigarettes.