A British man caught smuggling more than a tonne of illicit tobacco hidden in 35 suitcases that were posted to the UK has been jailed for two years.
David Glenn Sinclair, 52, from Hull, was rumbled after parcel depot staff became suspicious of a number of shrink-wrapped suitcases destined for his home. They alerted HM Revenue and Customs, which investigated.
HMRC discovered more than 87 kilos of illicit hand-rolling tobacco packaged in three shrink-wrapped suitcases at the Dewsbury delivery depot. They had been posted from Spain, which was a destination that Sinclair regularly travelled to.
The investigation further revealed that eight similar deliveries of a number of suitcases had been posted from the same sender in Spain to Sinclair over the previous four month.
A text message was also found on Sinclair's phone from a man called Vinnie saying he had "10 suitcases if you want them".
The smuggling racket over five months involved 35 suitcases and totalled 1,025 kilos of illicit hand-rolling tobacco, which was worth £157,971 in unpaid duty.
HMRC also found £4,000 and €7,000 in cash in coat pockets when searching Sinclair's home following his arrest.
Sinclair had claimed he was oblivious to the fact the suitcases contained tobacco as he believed they held the personal effects of an unnamed individual who was planning to move from Spain to the UK.
Sinclair's solicitor, Richard Holland, said Sinclair was "recruited as the post box in this country" after agreeing with problematic tenants in his Spanish rental property that they would move out if he accepted the suitcases. Holland said Sinclair was not involved with what happened to the tobacco once he had receipt of it.
Sinclair later admitted nine charges of fraudulent evasion of excise duty and one of possessing criminal property.
Recorder Nigel Sangster QC said: "It is clear it was a sophisticated and determined effort to bring tobacco in from Spain to avoid the duty… This sis a serious offence and I take the view you played a leading role."
Anne-Marie Gordon, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: "Sinclair's aim was simple: to line his pockets at the expense of the taxpayer. But this was an unsophisticated fraud destined to fail and it was only a matter of time before he was caught. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the taxpayer around £2 billion a year and hurts legitimate retailers."
Earlier this month, a London couple were sentenced for their involvement in a counterfeit tobacco production racket worth £1m a week.