2:10pm Thursday 7th March 2013
One of the biggest ever hauls of smuggled cigarettes has been discovered in Southampton.
An investigation has been launched after more than 30 million cigarettes were seized at the city's container port in a shipment that was supposed to be full of wind turbines.
The haul, which is the largest Southampton has ever seen, was uncovered last week, when Border Force officers discovered 8.5 million cigarettes crammed inside a cargo container on Friday March 1.
Further investigations led officers to another two containers full of the illegal imports, bringing the total number seized to 30.3 million.
The smugglers were trying to avoid paying £8 million in taxes and duty and had described the containers' contents as “wind turbine parts” on import documents.
The three cigarette laden containers were loaded onto a cargo vessel in the Shenzhen area of China.
The incident has now been referred to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation.
John Cooper, assistant director of the HMRC's criminal investigation team, said: “The diligence of Border Force officers has prevented a huge quantity of cigarettes, believed to be Chinese counterfeits, from reaching the UK's streets.
“The sheer scale of this haul would undoubtedly have seen criminal gangs selling the tobacco to retailers, clubs, car boot sales and eventually UK consumers.
“HMRC will continue to work with Border Force to crackdown on tobacco fraud, which costs the UK Government around £1.8 billion a year.”
Anyone with information about the incident, or tobacco smuggling in general, should contact the Customs' Hotline on 0800 59 5000.
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