Members of a gang which smuggled millions of cigarettes into the UK hidden in furniture have been jailed for between four years and 18 months.

The four men from Essex were caught after HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers used covert surveillance to watch a delivery of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco to a warehouse in Walthamstow.

Using Indonesian contacts, the gang set up a series of importations declared as furniture which in fact concealed vast quantities of illicit tobacco.

HMRC investigators uncovered a total of 22 importations between July 2007 and April 2009, 20 of which originated in Indonesia.

 “Our officers have uncovered a sophisticated and highly organised fraud where the smugglers used knowledge gained from a legitimate furniture business to evade the payment of duty,” Paul Barton, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said. “The effect of this type of criminal activity on legitimate retailers can be devastating. Millions of pounds, which should be available for public services, are lost each year.”

Anyone with information about illicit tobacco should call the customs hotline on 0800 59 5000.