Millions of cigarettes were smuggled inside washing machines

A Polish gang was locked up for smuggling 2.6 million cigarettes into Nottingham inside 46 washing machines. Their lorry had false plates for parts of its journey across Europe as they tried to dodge GBP756,422 of UK taxes, a court heard. And fake papers were used to rent a warehouse on the Trent South Industrial Estate, Colwick, where the fraud was halted on June 28 last year.

Inland Revenue officers raided the premises as the cigarettes were being taken from the washing machines and being put in boxes, Nottingham Crown Court heard.

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Judge Steven Coupland told the five offenders: “This was smuggling on an industrial scale. “False number plates were used to conceal the identity of the lorry. False contracts of employment were used as cover for what was going on.”

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Company owner Rafal Szczepanik, 42, was jailed for three years 11 months.

He denied conspiring to evade duty but was found guilty after a trial. Mark Cotter QC, defending, told the court: “There is no evidence that he took a leading role.”

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And he said there were texts which were “derogatory” to Szczepanik whose address was given as Leeway Road, Southwell. This showed there were people senior to him in the operation, added Mr Cotter.

The other four men all pleaded guilty and had no fixed addresses in the UK. Daniel Zajczek, 44, described as “his right hand man” was sent to prison for three years four months. Justin Wigoder, mitigating, said that Zajczek began studying English while in prison awaiting sentence.

Staff said he was “always courteous and respectful.” Lorry driver Marek Guziewicz, 33, was given two years five months. His trailer unit was confiscated.

Nicola Hornby, mitigating, said the loss of the unit would hamper his work prospects when released. “He was regularly crossing the border and this is something brought about by his personal circumstances,” she added. A two-year ten-month term was imposed on Matievsz Blajer, 27.

He was represented by Steve Ramsell who said: “He was doing what he was told to do.” Dawid Pietluch, 22, was given a prison term of two years four months. James Beck, mitigating, said that Pietluch had been taking a degree in physical education in Poland, adding: “He was seduced by others to come to this country.”

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Gareth Weetman, prosecuting, told the court that Szczepanik was “the organiser and director” while Zajczek was “his right hand man.”

The judge ordered the confiscation of the cigarettes, a fork lift truck and the hollowed out washing machines. The cigarettes were two brands which are illegal in the UK, 2,662,240 Minsk cigarettes and 8,460 carrying the Pect name. The hearing was told that another man has not been traced.

He is thought to be overseas.

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