4000 Illegal cigarettes seized

ALMOST 4,000 illegal cigarettes have been uncovered from a mobile shop in Ballymena.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers searched the mobile shop last Monday, where they seized 3,640 illicit cigarettes.

The vehicle was seized, costing the owner £600 to have it returned.

While in Belfast an attempt to smuggle almost 50kgs of tobacco leaf, enough to make 100,000 counterfeit cigarettes, into Northern Ireland packaged as Chinese Tea was foiled by HMRC officers.

The tobacco was uncovered last Tuesday at a postal distribution centre in Belfast. The fraud involved the importation of tobacco leaf from China, which could then have been used to produce counterfeit cigarettes with an estimated street value of £25,000.

Mike Connolly, Assistant Director, Specialist Investigations, HMRC said: “This form of criminality is motivated solely by greed and personal gain, costing around £2 billion per year in unpaid duty. This quantity of tobacco could have produced over 100,000 cigarettes, making a substantial profit for the criminals.

“The unregulated sale of illegal tobacco products is not a victimless or harmless crime, and encourages otherwise honest people to trade with criminals.

“We are keen to work closely with and support local businesses that have to compete against these illegal sales. We would encourage anyone who knows of someone selling cheap or duty free tobacco or cigarettes to contact our hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

Investigations into the seizures are continuing.