A lorry driver, who tried to smuggle more than five million illegal cigarettes into the UK hidden behind bags of soil, has been jailed.
Sabastiaan Gahr was caught with illegal cigarettes worth £1,379,248 in unpaid duty at King George Docks in Hull, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed.
The 41-year-old, of Kinrooi, Belgium, was caught out when Border Force officers stopped his lorry as he arrived into the UK from Rotterdam on June 13 this year.
Gahr said he was delivering soil and furniture to a garden centre in Liverpool but officers found 5,200,000 Business Royal cigarettes when they searched the lorry.
The cigarettes were packed in cardboard boxes, stacked on pallets, wrapped in white plastic and hidden behind bags of soil.
Gahr told officers he did not know about the cigarettes and was paid 500 euros to drive the lorry by a man he met in a pub. He was arrested and the cigarettes were seized.
The case was passed on to HMRC for investigation.
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Gahr was convicted of excise fraud at Grimsby Crown Court today and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.
Eden Noblett, assistant director of HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the UK with millions of illegal cigarettes. Gahr thought his haul of illegal goods would go unnoticed and he could make some easy money. But now he is paying the price behind bars.
“Trade in illegal tobacco undermines legitimate businesses and starves our public services of vital funds. The duty evaded on these cigarettes was equivalent to the salaries of 58 newly qualified teachers for a year."
Anyone with information about tax fraud is urged to report it to HMRC online or contact its Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.