Three men have been arrested, and a vast haul of illicit cigarettes and tobacco seized, following a raid by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on a suspected £2.4m tobacco smuggling plot.

HMRC officers, supported by Essex Police and the National Crime Agency, seized 8.5 million cigarettes and 30kg of shisha tobacco as they were being unloaded from a container at farmland in Abridge, Essex.

The haul had arrived in the UK through London Gateway Docks from Dubai.

The three men were arrested on suspicion of tobacco smuggling under the Customs and Management Act 1979. They have been bailed until 27 November 2014.

Martin Brown, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC said: “Tobacco crime undermines legitimate producers and retailers, costs the UK taxpayer around £2bn a year in lost revenue and has a serious and detrimental impact on our communities.

“We encourage anyone with information about tobacco smuggling and fraud to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”