A Suffolk man who was involved in evading more than £420,000 in duty by smuggling cigarettes has been jailed for three years.
Former successful furniture maker Anthony Wheeler, 49, had moved to Indonesia to start a new life when he was recruited to help ship large quantities of cigarettes and tobacco into the UK.
Wheeler, 49, who was arrested when he returned to Britain to be nearer his mother after she fell ill, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court on Friday.
At the time of his arrest, Wheeler was living in a farmhouse near Wyncolls Lane, Layham, near Hadleigh, but no longer has any connection with the property.
At an earlier hearing, he had pleaded guilty to two offences of fraudulently evading excise duty. The shipments which Wheeler admitted involvement with involved unpaid duty of £420,377.
The court heard that four other men from the same gang had already been jailed. In total, during 21 shipments to the UK from Indonesia and Thailand, they imported 3.6million cigarettes and 1.6 tonnes of rolling tobacco.
Contraband was hidden inside cardboard packing around furniture and handicrafts and inside packages shaped to resemble chairs and animal figures.
Prosecutor Martyn Levett said: “It was sophisticated, it was professional. There were repeated imports even after seizures were made and there were a variety of methods adopted.”
The smuggling operation had not been Wheeler’s only source of income as he had run a successful furniture and carpentry business, said Achilleas Achillea in mitigation.
Recently, Wheeler’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer and required urgent surgery and he was anxious to be able to provide her with as much support as possible upon his release from prison, said Mr Achillea.
Judge John Holt said the offences to which Wheeler had pleaded guilty were committed between summer 2007 and spring 2009 and that he had played a “substantial role” in the smuggling operation.
Wheeler now has an address in Station Road, March, Cambridgeshire.