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Lorry driver jailed for trying to smuggle millions of cigarettes into the UK via Dover

A dad-of-two tried to smuggle more than eight million cigarettes into Dover in boxes disguised as grapes.

Had he been successful, truck driver Miklos Sokorai's haul would have been worth just shy of £4 million.

Miklos Sokorai was jailed for trying to smuggling eight million cigarettes into Dover
Miklos Sokorai was jailed for trying to smuggling eight million cigarettes into Dover

The 49-year-old was paid €1,000 before making the trip to Kent in May, claiming he was just carrying a consignment of grapes.

A jury at Maidstone Crown Court heard how the Mercedes lorry and refrigeration unit were stopped at Dover Eastern Docks.

He claimed he had brought 4,160 cartons of India Thompson seedless grapes, weighing 13,500kg from Holland to Maidstone-based Jem Fruits.

Prosecutor Daniel Stevenson said the paperwork was fake and the cigarettes were hidden behind a few boxes of grapes.

"The cigarettes were counterfeit products, manufactured to appear as though they were genuine UK branded cigarettes when in fact they were not," he said.

Two pallets of what were supposed to be grapes in Sokorai's trailer (20157316)
Two pallets of what were supposed to be grapes in Sokorai's trailer (20157316)

"The duty evaded through the smuggling into the UK of this consignment of cigarettes is in excess of £2.5 million.

"And the cigarettes if sold at the recommended retail price of a packet of genuine cigarettes, would have been worth just shy of £4 million."

Mr Stevenson said Sokorai claimed he was carrying a consignment of grapes, "which in fact were used to hide the cigarettes".

The lorry driver, a Hungarian, was jailed for four years and eight months after the jury convicted him of avoiding paying duty by smuggling the cigarettes. He had denied the offence.

Judge David Griffith-Jones QC told him he had let down his wife and two children, who live in Ukraine.

He said it had been a "sophisticated smuggling operation" and Sokorai had been convicted on "utterly compelling evidence".

Cigarettes inside one of the boxes recovered by Border Force officers
Cigarettes inside one of the boxes recovered by Border Force officers

The judge added the driver's denials had been "wholly inplausible".

He also commended HMRC officers and the prosecutor for the "excellent way that detailed and potentially confusing and difficult" facts were presented clearly to the jury.

The lorry involved was seized by HMRC.

Tom Hunnisett, assistant director of HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service, said: "The amount of duty evaded on these goods was equivalent to the starting salaries of 99 newly qualified police officers in Kent."

Anyone with information about suspected tax fraud to report it to HMRC online, or call its Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.

Read more: All the latest news from Dover


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