TWO men have avoided jail after trying to smuggle more than two million illegal cigarettes hidden inside steel construction units.

Two men have been given suspended sentences after attempting to smuggle the cigarettes into the country through the Port of Tyne, in North Shields.

Sandor Paloczi, 36, and Miklos Beca, 30, both of Hungary, tried to smuggle non-UK duty paid cigarettes worth £612,691 in unpaid taxes, in September 2017.

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Paloczi and Beca, who were travelling from Ijmuiden, Holland, told Border Force officers they were delivering the steel structures to a company in Glasgow and said they were only carrying a small amount of tobacco products.

The officers then searched the lorry and found 2,280,800 cigarettes concealed inside the structures.

Cheryl Burr, from HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: This was a shocking plot to put millions of illicit cigarettes on the streets which would have undoubtedly harmed honest and hardworking businesses.

“Paloczi and Beca thought their illegal cargo was well hidden and would go undetected, but they were wrong.”

Both men admitted excise fraud at Newcastle Crown Court on December 1 and were sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, yesterday.