A FATHER and son have been jailed for an international cigarette smuggling operation which saw illegal tobacco posted from Spain, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium.
Peter Robinson, 69, and partner-in-crime Adam Robinson, 28, tried to cheat the taxman out of £229,000 in lost duty over a three-year period, Manchester Crown Court heard.
The Robinsons also tried to evade justice by failing to turn up for court - but were quickly extradited back to the UK last year after detectives caught up with them in Spain.
Customs bosses say the pair were initially detained in Coquelles, near Calais, northern France, in October 2011, and caught red-handed with paperwork relating to 26 cigarette parcels, hidden in the roof space of their car.
Their fingerprints were also found on packets posted between 2009 and 2011 which were traced to a number of addresses in northern England.
One major seizure was made at the Heywood home of their accomplice Christopher Quint, where it was found the Robinsons had also used aliases.
The pair, who both live in Saunders Close, Crawshawbooth, were sentenced to 30 months in jail after being convicted of tax evasion conspiracy offences.
The court heard the Robinsons were initially summonsed to attend a hearing at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court in July 2014 but failed to show up.
European arrest warrants were issued by revenue and customs officers and the pair were detained by investigators in Spain last September.
The court heard that the gang were involved in at least 109 instances of postal smuggling, with parcels sent from Spain, Poland, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium.
Customs officers seized 1,087 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and 429,600 cigarettes as part of their operation. In total they attempted to evade UK duty of £229,012.
Sandra Smith, customs' assistant director for criminal investigation, said: "These men posted large quantities of tobacco and cigarettes in their attempt to evade UK duty and taxes.
"As a result of our investigation, we have disrupted a criminal network that was evading tax and pocketing public funds. They now face confiscation of their criminal proceeds.
"We are determined to tackle the illicit tobacco trade in the north west region."
Quint, of Starkey Street, Heywood, was given a 16-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, and 200-hour community service order, after he admitted six offences of knowingly being concerned in six offences of illegal importation. He asked for eight similar matters to be considered at his sentencing hearing.
Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale have become renowned as hot spots in the north west for shopkeepers attempting to pass illegal tobacco cartons across their counters.
Sniffer dogs helped county trading standards officers to root out 1,200 packs of contraband packets from 35 shops, it was revealed earlier this year. Regular prosecutions are also mounted by the consumer watchdog against shopkeepers trying to pass off packets without health warnings as genuine.