Two men have been jailed for their role in a £9.5million cigarette fraud ring that involved more than 20 million cigarettes.
Oleg Bolun, 39, of Peak Hill, Sydenham was given a five-year sentence, while Ion Pantelei, 26, of Peter’s Path, Sydenham was given four years, after both admitted excise fraud.
An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed the gang was responsible for the importation, storage and distribution of illegal cigarettes worth £9.5 million in unpaid duty after they were caught red-handed unloading pallets of cigarettes from a lorry into a farm unit in Essex.
Bolun and Pantelei ran when officers approached, but were caught and arrested.
Officers also found more than £840,000 cash at a residential garage owned by Bolun in Sydenham.
They were jailed alongside two other men from east London who were involved in the cigarette smuggling.
Between November 2018 and July 2019, HMRC investigators found and seized 23,464,440 cigarettes from four rented units in London, Essex, north Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
Bolun was the lead organiser and documents found on his phone detailed the sale and purchase of commercial quantities of cigarettes worth £9.5 million in unpaid duty.
Pantelei recruited workers, paid their wages and organised unloading, deliveries and re-packaging of the cigarettes.
Officers discovered a further 3,490,900 cigarettes inside a self-storage unit in Forest Hill. Some of the cigarettes were packed inside cardboard boxes labelled as laminate flooring.
Alison Chipperton, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: “This was a well organised operation and a deliberate attempt to put millions of illegal cigarettes on the streets of the UK.
“The illegal tobacco trade undermines legitimate businesses, including small, independent shops and takes funding away from our vital public services. It also funds serious organised criminals who bring misery to local communities.
“We encourage anyone with information about the smuggling, storage or sale of illegal tobacco or alcohol, to report it online or call the fraud hotline on 0800 788 887.”
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