A SUSPECTED £5million illegal tobacco fraud has been foiled, according to government officials.

It comes as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs raided a home in Blackburn.

Two men, aged 41 and 29, were arrested on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty. They have been released on bail until July 2.

Officers from the HMRC also raided a farm in Essex, as well as four premises near Bury.

During the searches in the three areas, they seized cash, chemical agents, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery.

A tobacco processing plant was searched in Essex and more than three tonnes of raw tobacco, which was in the process of being converted into counterfeit hand rolling tobacco, was seized from an industrial unit in the Bury area.The estimated loss to the Exchequer is around £5million in unpaid duty and VAT.

An HMRC spokesman said the link between the men from across the country was forming part of the investigation.

Sandra Smith, assistant director in the criminal investigation department, said: “It is clear from the chemicals and machinery we found that people were planning to produce and sell illegal tobacco products across the UK.

“Illicit tobacco factories hidden in our communities are packaging low quality tobacco and I’d urge people to be wary.

“Cheap tobacco may seem like a bargain, but there are no controls over what is mixed into the counterfeit product and by buying it smokers are funding international organised crime gangs.

“Anyone with information about the transport, storage or sale of cheap cigarettes or tobacco in the North West or further afield, can help us by calling the customs hotline.”

Anyone with information should call 0800 595000.

All the tobacco seized will be burned to fuel the National Grid.