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Two men from Havering are among four jailed for smuggling millions of cigarettes into the UK hidden in furniture to evade £1.5 million in taxes.

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Nigel Sheekey, 50, of Mawney Road, Romford, was sentenced to four years at Ipswich Crown Court on Monday, after being convicted of four illegal importations.

Terry Turner, 51, of South End Road, Rainham, will serve 22 months after being convicted of his involvement in two importations.

Michael Lowe, 61, of Carlina Gardens, Woodford Green, pleaded guilty to seven importations, and was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison.

And Paul Huzzey, 56, of Tycehurst Hill, Loughton, pleaded guilty in 2011 to two importations and was jailed for 18 months.

The four were caught after customs officers used covert surveillance to watch a delivery of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco to a warehouse in Walthamstow, east London.

Lowe was central to the illegal operation using contacts made in Indonesia.

He set up a series of importations declared as furniture or handicrafts, with knowledge gained from working in the trade, in which he concealed illicit tobacco and cigarettes.

Investigators uncovered a total of 22 importations between July 2007 and April 2009.

Lowe was a frequent visitor to Indonesia using family names and addresses in the UK to set up the importations.

Paperwork found at his home resulted in the seizure of nearly 1.7 tons of handrolling tobacco and nearly 700,000 cigarettes in a container in Indonesia.

Sheekey adopted a false name and used his mother’s home address to facilitate the importation and collection of one of the consignments.

Turner was involved in organising a load and the delivery of another.

Huzzey supplied storage facilities to the organisation.

Paul Barton, Customs’ 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.”

A fifth man, Anthony Wheeler, 49, of March, Cambridgeshire, pleaded guilty in September 2011 and will be sentenced in November.

Anyone with information should call the customs hotline on: 0800 59 5000 or email: customs.hotline@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

All five men were convicted of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty.

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