A SHOPKEEPER is starting a five-year jail term after he was branded "an accomplished liar" for his part in a £3million smuggling ring.

Saiful Chowdhury used his fashion clothing company to 'sneak' more than 30 tonnes of hand-rolled tobacco into the UK, avoiding tax.

The 39-year-old father of four of Chester Close, Audley, Blackburn, was caught twice bringing vast quantities of tobacco into Britain.

And even when he was on bail the clothing boss continued trying to dupe customs officials by setting up secret bank accounts to get cash abroad to fund the scheme.

Yet, despite the evidence presented at Canterbury Crown Court Chowdhury denied being involved in the scam, which is thought to have cost taxpayers up to £3m in lost revenue - and £110,00 for his lengthy trial.

Sentencing, Judge Timothy Nash said that Chowdhury's claims of innocence were "laughable".

He told him: "I consider you are one of the most accomplished liars ever to have appeared in front of me.

"You were high up in an organised and professional tobacco importation scam.

"Notwithstanding being caught on the first time with tobacco, you continued with this scam and were caught going out twice with money and with clothing to purchase tobacco."

Paul Valder, prosecuting, told how Chowdhury regularly drove his van from his shop SA Chowdhury in Accrington Road, Blackburn, through Dover, to shops in Belgium.

There, he bought vast quantities of tobacco which he stashed underneath boxes of clothing, but never declared to customs officials.

In November 2005, a hired van, driven by Chowdhury, was stopped by customs officials on his return to Kent.

Chowdhury handed over three receipts for clothing after telling officials he had been to Paris and was returning to Blackburn.

But when customs officials searched underneath the clothes, they found sealed boxes of Golden Virginia tobacco.

Chowdhury had denied five offences of evading duty, attempting to remove criminal property and transferring and attempting to transfer criminal property between November 2005 and December 2006.

Mr Valder said that officers "piecing together the various strands" could not be precise about how much excise was avoided but estimated it to be £3.2million.

Chowdhury was later arrested and bailed. He opened a bank account to get money to Belgium so others could continue the smuggling operation.

He was searched and £115.25 and 12,435 in Euros was found in his pockets. Chowdhury claimed: the tobacco was "..for somebody. I'm just the courier."

Peter Alcock, defending, said: "He is a clothier by trade and also works in grocery and property and as a father of four, who are aged between two years and 13 this sentence will have a great effect on them."

A second man, Harun Patel, 47, from Preston was given a nine month jail sentence suspended for a year after admitting smuggling tobacco into Britain. Patel was said to have been " a stooge" to divert blame away from Chowdhury.

After the case, Malcolm Bragg assistant chief investigation officer for HM Revenue and Customs said: "This is an excellent result for our investigators who have worked hard to bring this case to its rightful conclusion.

"This sentence will serve as a deterrent to others.

"Dealing in smuggled tobacco products is not a harmless tax fiddle.

"It cheats the Government of revenue can be used to fund vital public services. "