From: This is Lancashire
CUSTOMS investigators have seized a massive haul of 200,000 cigarettes and 300kg of tobacco — believed to be smuggled or counterfeit — in an alleged duty-evasion scam.
HM Revenue and Customs officials believe that £75,000 of excise duty was dodged in the operation.
Two men were caught transferring the cigarettes and tobacco from one van to another in Pendlebury Fold, Hunger Hill, at 7.30pm on Thursday.
When the officials interrupted the transfer, they found nearly 300kg of hand rolling tobacco and 200,000 cigarettes, along with a “large quantity” of cash.
The hand-rolled tobacco was branded as Golden Virginia and the cigarettes were labelled as Superkings, but all the items seized are thought to be counterfeit or smuggled.
Customs spokesman Bob Gaiger confirmed that the raid had taken place.
He said: “Tobacco fraud undercuts legitimate retailers and costs the UK economy about £2 billion a year.
“Anyone with information about tobacco smuggling should contact the customs hotline.
“The two men were bailed pending further enquiries into the goods seized, which in this case were worth about £75,000 in unpaid excise duty and VAT.”
Stuart Lever, the owner of van rental firm U Drive, which is based in Blackburn Road, Astley Bridge, was called out after Customs staff discovered one of his firm’s vans was being used to shift the tobacco.
It is believed the tobacco was being moved into one of Mr Lever’s vans when Customs officers intervened.
Mr Lever said: “I had a phone call from Customs asking me to go down to the scene.
“It was an industrial area which is deserted after hours. They said the other van, not mine, was crammed to the roof with tobacco.
“It was ready to be transferred into my van.
“It is the third time that one of my vans has been used in crimes recently.
One was seized by someone stealing charity bags, and another for stealing flagstones. It is impossible to stop people — they told me it was being used to move furniture.“ Anyone with information can call the Customs hotline on 0800 595000.
● Two men, believed to be from Halliwell, have been arrested on suspicion of their involvement in the supply of suspected smuggled or counterfeit goods.