Two men caught smuggling more than two million illicit cigarettes hidden inside steel construction units at the port in North Tyneside have been sentenced.
An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found Sandor Paloczi, 36, and Miklos Beca, 30, both of Hungary, tried to smuggle non-UK duty paid cigarettes worth £612,691 in unpaid taxes through the Port of Tyne, North Shields, in September 2017.
Paloczi and Beca told Border Force officers they were delivering the steel structures to a company in Glasgow and said they were only carrying a small amount of tobacco products.
The officers then searched the lorry and found 2,280,800 cigarettes concealed inside the structures. Both men said they did not know about the large haul of illicit tobacco products, which were seized by HMRC.
Cheryl Burr, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "This was a shocking plot to put millions of illicit cigarettes on the streets which would have undoubtedly harmed honest and hard-working businesses. Paloczi and Beca thought their illegal cargo was well hidden and would go undetected, but they were wrong.
"The illicit tobacco market takes money from public services and harms legitimate traders. If you have information on the sale of illegal tobacco please contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887."
Paloczi and Beca, who travelled to the UK from Ijmuiden, Holland, were arrested at the port by Border Force officers.
Both admitted excise fraud at Newcastle Crown Court last month and were each sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, at the same court today (Friday, January 19) by Mr Recorder Hedworth QC.