Man who hid 14 million cigarettes in refrigerated lorries carrying fruit and vegetables is jailed

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A freight distribution manager who hid more than 14 million cigarettes in refrigerated lorries carrying fruit and vegetables, to evade an estimated £2.5 million in duty and VAT, has been jailed, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Barry Wood, 45, of Highland Road, Maidstone, Kent, was sentenced to six years and six months yesterday at Maidstone Crown Court.

Romulus Boca, 32, a Romanian national, received a three-year sentence after he was caught driving a lorry loaded with millions of smuggled cigarettes.

HMRC investigators intercepted the cigarettes in two separate lorry loads at Dover docks in July and November 2010.

In total, 14.6 million cigarettes with an estimated duty loss of £2,516,257 were seized from the two hauls.

Sentencing the two defendants, Judge Charles Byers said: "You cheated every honest taxpayer in the UK and in particular small businesses in the Kent area.

"The sentence must punish you to reflect the seriousness of the crime and send a clear message that these offences will be dealt with severely by the courts."

Peter Hollier, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said: "These men used their positions in a transport company and their knowledge of the freight industry to set up this smuggling operation.

"They are criminals out to make a profit without concern for the consequences for the livelihoods of honest shopkeepers.

"The sentences will send out a clear message to those attempting to avoid paying their dues that the penalties can be severe."

Confiscation proceedings are under way to recover the criminal profits of this crime.