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22 December 2011, 17:05
More than 16 million illegal cigarettes have been seized by HM Revenue & Customs officers in Rochdale.
It is the largest single detection in the North West region this year.
The cigarettes, worth an estimated £3.8 million in evaded duty and VAT, were uncovered at an industrial unit in the Castleton area.
They had been imported as fruit with a large quantity of oranges and kiwifruits.
Two men from Greater Manchester and one man from South Wales have been arrested on suspicion of excise fraud and bailed until March 2012.
HMRC Assistant Director, Criminal Investigations, Mike O’Grady said: "Tobacco smuggling on this scale is not about cheap cigarettes; it is organised fraud on a global scale, encouraging and supporting criminality within our communities, and robbing taxpayers of millions each year in unpaid duty and VAT. HMRC teams operate across the North West to disrupt this illicit trade, which has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers having to compete against crime on this scale, particularly at Christmas, one of the busiest times of year."
Anyone with information about the storage or sale of illegal tobacco in their area should contact the Customs’ hotline on 0800 59 5000.
The seized cigarettes will be recycled as fuel pellets and used to fuel the national electricity grid.