Couple with 180,000 illegal cigarettes in garage bought their Northampton home through proceeds of tobacco scam

The haul of illicit tobacco seized at the property by HMRC.
The haul of illicit tobacco seized at the property by HMRC.

A couple who paid for their Northampton house through a tobacco smuggling scam have been sentenced - and had their home seized.

Nearly 180,000 illegal cigarettes were discovered in the garage of Rimandas Urvakis, 59, and his wife Marija Urvakiene, 61, by HM Revenue and Customs.

A HMRC spokesperson said: “Urvakis and Urvakiene believed they could use the proceeds of crime to buy a house. They were wrong. Instead, their greed has earned them criminal records, and their home will be used to repay their debt to the public purse."

The fraud was uncovered when Northamptonshire Police spotted Urvakis meeting with a lorry driver in a car park off the M1 outside Northampton just before midnight in November 2011. After placing two bags into the boot of his Volkswagen Passat, Urvakis drove away before being pulled over by the officers moments later.

Inside the VW, police discovered 13 kilos of non-duty paid hand-rolling tobacco. Urvakis was arrested and the case passed to HMRC, who searched his home in Howards Way, Moulton.

Despite his wife Urvakiene’s attempt to hide the keys, HMRC investigators found more than 179,000 non-duty paid cigarettes in the garage.

Then, five weeks into the investigation, HMRC again searched the pair’s home, uncovering more than 5,000 non-duty paid cigarettes, 3.3 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and £3,700 in cash.

In March 2012, the couple were charged with the fraudulent evasion of excise duty and money laundering offences.

Investigations revealed factory workers Urvakis and Urvakiene had secured a mortgage on a £170,000 house with a £30,000 deposit and made regular repayments while living off the proceeds of the fraud.

Both admitted money laundering and Urvakis admitted evading £37,145.30 in duty at Northampton Crown Court on 27 January 2017.

At the same court on 13 February 2017, Urvakis was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.

His wife Urvakiene was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

A HRMC spokesperson said: “The illicit tobacco trade costs the UK around £2.4 billion a year and harms the livelihoods of legitimate retailers. We encourage anyone with information regarding the smuggling, storage or sale of illegal tobacco to contact our 24-hour Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”