Swoop on suspected £6m smuggling ring

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Two men have been arrested in Spalding in connection with a suspected smuggling racket, estimated to have cost the taxpayer at least £6million.

Operation Turnip saw 630,000 illegal cigarettes seized last Monday as part one of the biggest swoops of its kind in the region.

Around 100 HMRC investigators, assisted by police and Trading Standards, carried out 30 raids in Spalding and Peterborough of residential properties, local shops and warehouse storage units.

The men arrested in Spalding, aged 34 and 27, were from Boston. Three others from Peterborough, aged 52, 22 and 45, were also arrested.

All five were apprehended on suspicion of being involved in excise fraud, primarily the illegal importation of Jing Ling cigarettes known as “illegal whites”.

During the operation 630,000 illicit white cigarettes were seized and £13,000 was also seized from two residential addresses in Peterborough.

A spokesman for HMRC said: “They (Jing Ling) are not available commercially in the UK. They are unregulated, the smoker has no idea what they are smoking and they can contain harmful chemicals.

“They are also sold illegally in residential areas, pubs and clubs and some small independent retail shops.”

Richard Las, HMRC’s Deputy Director for Criminal Investigation, said: “This operation is an HMRC-led investigation targeting suspected cigarette smuggling and money laundering offences, centred on Peterborough and Spalding.

“We cannot provide any further information as the investigation is continuing.

“Our activity sends out a clear message to those involved in this type of criminality. Attempts to import, distribute and sell tobacco goods on which UK duty has not been paid are treated extremely seriously by HMRC and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or crime gangs believed to be involved.”

Residents are asked to report anyone suspected of selling illegal tobacco goods by calling the HMRC 24-hour Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.