Five members of a Lancashire cigarette smuggling ring who imported over two million contraband cigarettes into the country packed inside wheelie bins have been jailed for a total of almost nine years.
A further four members were also sentenced for their part in the operation.
Ringleader Danish Amin, 35, of Catherine Street, Wesham, was jailed for 38 months and Michelle Whittaker, 21, also of Catherine Street, was jailed for 14 months after being found guilty of the same charge.
The group was targeted by Lancashire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit as part of a lengthy operation – codenamed Bittern – which began in May 2008.
The investigation which spread across three European countries revealed the group was ‘smuggling’ cigarettes from Germany, via Holland, into the UK. The group had disguised the true nature of the cigarettes within loads of wheelie bins and used legitimate transport companies to import the goods, in order to avoid paying duty.
Darren Cooper, 43, of Inner Promenade, Lytham St Annes, Henry Mooney, 47, of Stockbridge Road, Padiham, and Lee Sim, 33, of Windsor Road, Liverpool, were jailed and Luke Cooper, 23, of Walnut Crescent, Rhyl, and Darren Alcock, 41, of Livingston Road, Liverpool, were given suspended sentences after also admitting conspiracy to evade tax duty.
Aslam Amin, 60, of Victoria Road, Lytham, was also given a suspended sentence while Rebecca Sturgeon, 24, of Bambers Road, Blackpool, received a community order, both having previously pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Detective Inspector Jo Edwards, who led the investigation, said: “I am pleased with the sentences handed down by the judge.
“This group, led by Danish Amin and Darren Cooper, was responsible for establishing a transportation network from Europe to the UK, which enabled them to import cigarettes, into the UK without bringing them to the attention of the relevant authorities.
“Operation Bittern was a lengthy and complex investigation which required the assistance of law enforcement agencies in both Germany and the Netherlands as well as the Crown Prosecution Service.
“This should a strong warning to people who think they can get away with illegitimately bringing cigarettes, or other goods, into the country. We will not tolerate it, you will be targeted and you will be brought to justice and put behind bars.