TWO men have been jailed after more than £200,000 of duty was evaded on a stash of contraband cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco seized in Bradford by HM Customs and Excise investigators.

Aram Ibrahim and Hounar Baker were arrested after the illegal hoards were discovered at The Store Room on Beckside Road in Great Horton and at an address in Girlington Road in the city.

Ibrahim, 32, of Rock Street, Sheffield, and Baker, 35, who was apprehended while he was staying at the Girlington address, each pleaded guilty to fraudulent evasion of excise duty.

Ibrahim was jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty to a single offence of evading £150,000 worth of duty, and Baker, who admitted two similar offences involving duty worth more than £61,000, was imprisoned for 12 months.

Prosecutor Christopher Moran told Bradford Crown Court today that the stashes were found on March 17 and April 16 in 2017.

HM Customs officers found 515,317 cigarettes and 42 kilos of hand rolling tobacco in a unit at The Store Room rented by Ibrahim.

He told the police he was paid £500 by a Polish man to rent the unit in his name. He claimed he had never been there and did not know what was being stored.

Mr Moran said the unit on the same site that was connected to Baker had 97,800 cigarettes in it, along with 55 kilos of hand rolling tobacco. The duty evaded on that seizure totalled £35,816.

The following month, Baker was discovered asleep at the address in Girlington Road, where a further 83,280 cigarettes were being illegally stored and 16 kilos of hand rolling tobacco. The duty evaded on that haul was £25,908.

Baker told investigators that someone had ‘hijacked’ his identity to rent the storage unit in Beckside Road.

Ibrahim’s barrister, Jim Littlehales, said the offence was committed more than two years ago.

His client’s assertion that he never visited the storage unit was backed up by CCTV evidence that showed others visiting the premises but not him. He was also not linked to the address by any DNA evidence.

Mr Littlehales said that Ibrahim’s involvement in the scam was limited to being paid £500 to rent the building. He had no knowledge of what was being stored there or its value.

He had been remanded in custody since February.

Shufqat Khan, for Baker, said he had been in custody since October.

The court heard he had left the country while on bail and was arrested on a warrant when he returned from The Netherlands.

Mr Khan said Baker fled Iraq in 2001 and had lived “hand to mouth” since by taking low paid factory work.

He did not have indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom and would need to renew his application for asylum.

Judge Colin Burn said: “This was a wholly illegal operation.” Some of the cigarettes were being sold at a mini mart in Bradford.

“It is inevitable that there is a custodial sentence in both cases,” the judge stated.

After the case, a spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed that its officials visited Kosar Mini Market, on Southfield Lane, Great Horton, Bradford, in March 2017 and found 3,240 non-UK duty paid cigarettes in a bag in the shop’s backroom. Ibrahim was in charge of the shop at the time and further illegal stashes were discovered in the city soon afterwards.

Eden Noblett, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Ibrahim and Baker thought their stash of illegal goods would go undetected, but they were wrong. Trade in illegal tobacco harms legitimate businesses and deprives the UK of money which should be used to fund our public services.

“The duty evaded on these goods was equivalent to the salaries of nine new NHS nurses for a year.

“I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to report it to HMRC online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”