A taxi driver who attempted to smuggle more than 3.6 million counterfeit cigarettes into the UK concealed behind pallets of loose slate has been jailed for evading around £925,000 in excise duty and VAT.

Baljinder Singh was caught transferring cigarettes from a sea container into two vans at an industrial unit in Tilbury, Essex. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

The counterfeit cigarettes had arrived from China into the Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk. Import documents described the goods as 26 pallets of loose slate, with a delivery address in Ipswich. Investigators found that an innocent company’s details had been used as a cover for the load, but instead of being delivered to Ipswich, the pallets were diverted to an industrial unit in Tilbury.

Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation for HM Revenue and Customs said: “If this illegal operation had not been stopped millions of potentially dangerous counterfeit cigarettes would have reached the UK’s streets. Criminals involved in this type of crime don’t care who they harm; they are only out to make a profit. Their illegal activity undermines honest local retailers and allows unregulated cigarettes to get into the hands of children and young people.”