Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Million Fake Fags Seized

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Million Fake Fags Seized

Article excerpt

Byline: By Adam Jupp

A smuggling gang was caught when undercover police officers seized a hidden cargo of one million fake cigarettes

Ice cream sellers Franco and Antonio Gregorio, and businessman Pradeep Bahanda, planned to distribute the cigarettes across Tyneside.

The cartons were hidden in a secret compartment in a delivery van which had zig-zagged its away across Europe.

But the trio were caught when police swooped and unloaded the phoney cigarettes at an ice cream factory run by the Gregorio brothers in Cramlington.

Now they are facing jail after being found guilty by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court. Lithuanian Aidas Zilinskas, 37, who drove the lorry from Germany to Tyneside, and Colin McNally, 34, of Brampton Gardens, Throckley, Newcastle, were cleared of the smuggling charges at the end of the three-week trial.

The court heard details of the scam, which saw the villains exchange a flurry of text messages as they planned the drop-off.

Zilinskas drove the van from Germany to Ostend and by ferry to Ramsgate before delivering its legitimate load of pharmaceutical products to customers in Warrington. But the cigarettes remained concealed in flaps in the roof and floor of the lorry.

Zilinskas then continued North to a lay-by on the A1 in Durham where he met two men and followed them to a second rendezvous on the A1 where Bahanda arrived in BMW and led the convoy to the Gregorios' factory.

But the gang came unstuck when officers from the National Crime Squad were lying in wait.

Patrick Palmer, prosecuting, said: "He, (Bahanda), led the convoy to an industrial unit in the Cramlington industrial estate. This unit was intended to be operated by the Gregorios for the manufacture of ice cream.

"Its great benefit to these defendants was that it was sufficiently large to enable the lorry to reverse inside the warehouse so the cigarettes could be unloaded without them being observed.

"It would also enable the defendants to transfer the cigarettes into vans for local distribution again while not being observed.

"Once the lorry was safely inside the premises and the roller shutters had been pulled down, the defendant Bahanda left in his BMW and returned sometime later with the defendant McNally. …

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