MORE than 4.5 million counterfeit cigarettes were seized in a tobacco smuggling bust by customs officers.
The illicit ‘Vess’ branded cigarettes were uncovered in a raid on a building on an industrial estate in Aberystwyth, by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) investigators. The revenue loss on the goods was estimated at £1m.
The actual haul is estimated at much more – with the average packet of 20 cigarettes costing well over £7 a pack.
Three men – two from Aberystwyth – one in his 30s and one in his 40s – and another man in his 40s from Slough were arrested when the swoop happened on September 5. Nobody has yet been charged and customs officers are continuing with their inquiries. They have been bailed until December.
A fourth man was detained at the scene and was helping officers with their inquiries. A HMRC spokeswoman said the 225,000 packets of 20 cigarettes had been smuggled through the port at Southampton before being transported to Aberystwyth.
The Vess branded cigarettes were produced in China.
The spokeswoman said: “It’s a very lucrative business. These cigarettes could have ended up in car boot sales or sold by unscrupulous shopkeepers from under the counter or from pub car parks.”
Adrian Farley, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, for HMRC, said: “We take tobacco smuggling very seriously. It’s costing the British taxpayer around £2 billion a year in lost revenue to public finances and has a devastating impact on honest retailers having to compete with the black market.
“Cheap tobacco products can seem like an attractive offer to people, lured into purchasing them at what seem like bargain prices. However, the truth is these sales are unlicensed and unregulated. Those involved are not concerned if they are selling to underage children and young people.”
Anyone with information on tobacco smuggling should contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email email@example.com