A FRENCHMAN who helped smuggle more than four million cigarettes into Portsmouth has been jailed.
Jean-Francois Marc arrived at Portsmouth International Port in April last year in a lorry containing the huge stash.
It meant the 50-year-old evaded around £1m in tobacco duty and VAT.
But HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) started to investigate after Border Force officers discovered the cigarettes hidden under cardboard inside the vehicle’s trailer, which had arrived by ferry from Le Havre in France.
Marc, who was a passenger, was then put on a trial and Portsmouth Crown Court has now sentenced him to three years and six months in prison.
He will serve his time in France, where he is already in prison for handling stolen goods and motoring offences.
Marc, a welder, admitted to organising the scam and he arranged for a French HGV driver to drive him and the tobacco into the UK.
Paperwork suggested the lorry was full of empty cardboard boxes heading to a recycling plant.
Instead officers searching it found 14 pallets of cigarettes hidden underneath.
John Cooper, HMRC’s criminal investigation’s assistant director, said: ‘Marc attempted to flood the UK with a large quantity of smuggled cigarettes at the expense of the taxpayer, undercutting honest retailers.
‘The skill of HMRC investigators has brought this case to trial and Marc to justice.’
The cigarettes seized were illegal brands in the UK and have been destroyed to fuel the National Grid.
Upon sentencing, Judge Pearson said: ‘This was a sophisticated fraud upon the revenue and the quantity of cigarettes was substantial.
‘Your role cannot be ascertained but it is not at a junior level. For such a serious offence the minimum sentence I will give is three years and six months.’
Marc, pictured, pleaded not guilty on August 20 last year at Portsmouth Crown Court, but changed his plea to guilty on the first day of his trial.
Mr Cooper said anyone with information about tobacco smuggling should contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.