Rotting fruit used to hide smuggled cigarettes

Hidden cigarettes Image copyright HMRC
Image caption Boxes of illegally imported cigarettes were found hidden at the back of the lorry

A lorry driver who smuggled more than 146 million cigarettes into the UK hidden behind crates of rotting pears has been jailed.

Customs officers found 7.4 million hidden cigarettes when they stopped Hans Verhoeven at a truck stop off the M25 near Waltham Abbey in Essex.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said Verhoeven admitted making at least 18 smuggling runs in the past.

He received jail sentences totalling six years and 10 months.

Verhoeven was bailed following the Waltham Abbey stop, but four months later, in November 2014, he was stopped again at the Port of Dover in Kent.

Paperwork in his cab linked him to a lorry load of 8.1 million cigarettes, this time hidden behind boxes of apples.

Image copyright HMRC
Image caption Millions of cigarettes were discovered at a truck stop in Waltham Abbey

He admitted to making several trips, bringing in similar sized consignments each time.

HMRC said the smuggled cigarettes represented an estimated £32m in lost UK excise duty.

Image copyright HMRC
Image caption Crates of rotting pears were stacked in front of the illegal cigarettes

Verhoeven, who runs a transport company in Leuven, Belgium, pleaded guilty to three counts of evading UK excise duty at an earlier hearing at Maidstone Crown Court.

He was jailed for 51 months on each of two charges, to run concurrently, and 31 months on the third charge, to run consecutively - a total of six years and 10 months.

Stuart Taylor, HMRC Fraud Investigation Service assistant director, said: "Verhoeven smuggled huge quantities of cigarettes into the UK, costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds in lost duty, money that should have been providing vital public services.

"These offences have a devastating impact on honest retailers who struggle to compete with the black market in illicit cigarettes and tobacco."

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