The Northampton ringleader of a smuggling gang caught with more than nine million illegal cigarettes and £356,185 in cash has been jailed.
Oleg Cretu, 37, of Agnes Road in Northampton, was caught after the cigarettes and were discovered in an industrial unit in Wellingborough September 2018.
HMRC officers seized the money and some 9,510,360 mixed branded cigarettes worth £3.4 million in unpaid duty from the unit in Wellingborough, which was rented by Cretu.
An investigation discovered Cretu and his gang used a nearby car park as a base to meet customers and take payments before collecting the illegal cigarettes from the unit.
But the gang’s scam came undone after they were caught acting suspiciously in the car park. The gang led officers to the unit full of cigarettes and cash, hidden in cupboards and carrier bags.
Other men in the gang included Daniel Pascaru of London, Sebastian Hanczur of Dorset and Alan Ali of Derby.
Simon Kiefer, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The gang, led by Cretu, was aiming to undercut legitimate retailers with this large quantity of smuggled cigarettes. Cretu thought his scam would go unnoticed and he could flood the UK streets with millions of pounds worth of illegal goods, but he was wrong.
“The money they pocketed was equivalent to the salaries of 167 trainee firefighters in the East Midlands.
“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market. This is theft from the taxpayer, denying public services much needed money
"We urge anyone with information about this, or any other tax fraud, to contact HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Investigators believe Cretu orchestrated the scam, Hanczur and Pascaru acted as the link between buyers and suppliers, and Ali was involved in laundering the money.
The men plead guilty during a hearing at Northampton Crown Court on June 3. Cretu was sentenced to 38 months in prison yesterday (June 26).
Meanwhile, Pascaru was sentenced to 32 months in prison. Ali was handed a 16-month prison sentence and Hanczur was sentenced to a 15-month community order, 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £1,200.