A tip-off from a sharp-eyed shopkeeper led police to a mountain of contraband tobacco and bundles of fake pouches and labels, Bradford Crown Court heard.
The hoard of 700 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, on which £114,000 of duty had been evaded, was piled in bin bags at a house in Kirkham Road, Lidget Green, Bradford.
Illegal UK overstayer Zhao Lin, 35, was bagging up the smuggled tobacco into a potential 14,000 packets, with false labels including Golden Virginia and Amber Leaf, prosecutor Simon Haring told the court yesterday.
Chinaman Lin, who was bailed after his arrest at the house on October 25, 2012, pleaded guilty to illegally keeping the tobacco. He was jailed for 18 months.
Mr Haring said the case had taken so long to come to court because Lin, a failed asylum seeker, jumped police bail and was not re-arrested until November 11 last year.
He was caught at the house after a shopkeeper in nearby Spencer Street noticed unusual goings-on at the property, rented out to “a Chinese couple” ten days earlier.
Mr Haring said that fake pouches and forged holograms, purporting to show duty had been paid on the tobacco, were found under the floor at the house.
Lin told officers he was told to weigh and bag the tobacco into 50 gram portions for payment of £150 per load.
Mr Haring said the UK Border Agency was monitoring Lin and he would be deported after serving his sentence.
He had been in the UK since 2002 and gone to ground when his application to stay was rejected.
Lin’s barrister, Abdul Iqbal, said he was approached and directed to the house.
He had been doing restaurant work and needed to support his family.
As a failed asylum seeker, he could not legally work in the UK.
Judge Colin Burn told Lin: “You were caught in the act of preparing significant amounts of hand-rolling tobacco upon which duty had not been paid in the European Union.”
It was a sophisticated, large-scale set-up but he accepted Lin was not a prime mover.
“People such as yourself, who are working unofficially and illegally in this country, are likely to be vulnerable to the sort of people who work these operations,” Judge Burn said.