Three men, including a shopkeeper, have been jailed for between three and five years each after being caught red-handed with more than three million smuggled cigarettes.

The gang, which was under surveillance by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators, was arrested as the illicit cigarettes were delivered to an industrial unit in Suffolk.

The stash, of mainly smuggled Winston cigarettes, had been hidden inside air conditioning units.

Shop owner Manta Vasylius ran an Eastern European food shop in Thetford in Norfolk. He was charged with fraudulent evasion of duty and jailed for five years, along with his shop assistant Arnoldas Gefel who was given three years and four months.

A third man, Tomas Mazilius was jailed for three years and two months.

Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: “This gang was caught taking delivery of millions of smuggled cigarettes which they wrongly thought were well hidden inside air conditioning units.

“Not only does this type of criminal activity harm the livelihoods of honest shopkeepers but it is estimated to cost the UK economy £2bn a year in much needed revenue that should be funding public services.”