WANTED: Lorry driver who tried to smuggle 5.7m illicit cigarettes under frozen chips

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A lorry driver who was jailed in his absence for a failed plot to smuggle 5.7 million illicit cigarettes into the UK is being hunted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Richard David Curtis, of Kings Wood Close, Bawtry, skipped bail ahead of a trial which heard the contraband was found hidden beneath boxes of frozen chips inside his HGV at the Port of Dover in November 2013.

The 57-year-old was found guilty of evading more than £1.3m in excise duty in January and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

Alan Tully, assistant director of fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: “Richard Curtis gambled with his liberty in a brazen bid to profit from smuggling illicit cigarettes into the UK. He lost, and now he must face up to his crime and come forward to begin his time behind bars.

“Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.4 billion a year in lost duty. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders who cannot compete with those who pedal illegal cigarettes.

“I urge anyone with information on Richard Curtis’ whereabouts to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

The fraud was uncovered when Curtis’ lorry was stopped by Border Force after arriving on a ferry from Calais at the Kent port in November 2013. Paperwork provided by Curtis gave the illusion he was carrying a cargo of chips and potato waffles, bound for a frozen food store in Warrington, Cheshire.

But during a search, officers discovered 5,729,900 cigarettes, on which duty of £1,308,321 had not been paid, hidden beneath boxes of frozen chips.

Curtis told HMRC he had spent the weekend with an old girlfriend in Bruges, Belgium, before collecting the frozen food and travelling back to Dover via Calais. Curtis said he was unaware the lorry contained illicit cigarettes.

A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear at a pre-trial hearing in November 2016.

Curtis was found guilty of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty in his absence following a four-day trial at Maidstone Crown Court on January 4 this year and jailed for three years and nine months.

Curtis has links to Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and South Yorkshire.