A Worksop man who was the ringleader of a gang whose attempt to smuggle hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes into the UK was exposed by damaged packaging has been jailed.
Artur Szarubko, 45, and his accomplices Marcin Zajac, 42, and Monika Pawlak, 30, shipped 376,920 cigarettes from Germany into the UK via a courier service to evade paying more than £90,950 excise duty, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed.
But the fraud was rumbled when staff at a Rotherham-based freight depot spotted the illegal cigarettes in four boxes through the ripped packaging. In total, 332,720 Winston Blue and 44,200 Winston Classic cigarettes were seized by HMRC officers.
Eden Noblett, Assistant Director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: “The trio, led by Szarubko, thought their cigarette scam would go unnoticed, but they were wrong and are now paying the price.”
Further investigation by HMRC found that prior to the seizure in October 2015, the trio had received several packages from the same address in Germany.
Ringleader Szarubko, of St Marks Close, was in charge of placing the orders and arranging importation, investigators believe. His laptop contained thousands of emails suspected to be illegal orders.
Pawlak, of Deepdale Road, Rotherham, who was a colleague of Szarubko’s at a food packing firm, was responsible for distributing the goods. A handwritten note was found in which she had listed names of illegal cigarettes and figures thought to be quantities.
After his arrest, Zajac, of Doncaster Road, Worksop, said Szarubko had asked him to receive deliveries, which were left in his garden. Szarubko claimed the packages were personal belongings from a friend in Poland. Pawlak said she thought they contained clothes from Germany.
All three admitted charges of fraud and were sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court on Friday. Szarubko was handed a 16-month prison sentence, while Zajac and Pawlak were both ordered to complete 120 hours’ community service.