THREE Oxford men attempted to walk straight through airport customs carrying more than 220,000 illegal cigarettes. 

The trio were said to be 'flashing like beacons' as they attempted to evade border officials laden down with nine suitcases packed full of fags.

On January 27, Ismaeel Abdul-Kareem, Salem Abdullah and Hardo Artoshy had flown into Manchester Airport from Iraq via Doha, in Qatar, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found.

Oxford Mail:

When questioned, Abdul-Kareem and Abdullah told investigators they 'weren't aware' of the 200 cigarette duty-free limit in place for people returning from countries outside the EU while Artoshy accepted he was aware of the limit. 

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At Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, they admitted to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty and were sentenced today to four months in prison each, suspended for two years. 

Judge Paul Lawton told the defendants: “You are three mature and very foolish men. 

"You tried to make a quick buck importing low quality cigarettes via Manchester Airport.

"I do not know what possessed you to walk through Manchester Airport with three large suitcases, you would be flashing like beacons.”

The men attempted to pass through the green customs channel at the airport upon arriving back in the UK but were stopped by Border Force officers.

The 220,800 cigarettes they were found to be carrying were worth an estimated £77,428 in unpaid duty and VAT.

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They told investigators that another man had packed their suitcases but they knew what was in them.

Tim Atkins, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Each of the three had suitcases crammed with cigarettes worth tens of thousands of pounds. Their sole purpose was to smuggle as much as they could into the UK, to cheat the taxpayer and profit from crime.

“Tobacco smuggling steals money from vital public services – the duty evaded here is equivalent to the wages of three newly qualified midwives for a year. I urge anyone with information about tax fraud to contact HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Abdul-Kareem, 46, of Nowell Road, Rose Hill, Oxford, was carrying 70,800 Oscar Super Slim cigarettes, 5,000 ESSE Aura Green Apple cigarettes and 5,000 ESSE Pink Strawberry cigarettes, with unpaid duty and VAT of £28,334. He was previously stopped at Heathrow Airport in May 2014 when 2,400 illegal cigarettes were seized.

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Abdullah, 41, of Denny Gardens, Littlemore, Oxford, was found with 79,200 Oscar Super Slim cigarettes, with unpaid duty and VAT of £27,773.

Artoshy, 41, of Littlehay Road, Cowley, Oxford, had 60,400 Oscar Super Slim cigarettes and 400 Winston Silver cigarettes, with unpaid duty and VAT of £21,321.

Adam Knight, Assistant Director Border Force North, said: “This was a shameless attempt to evade tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid duty and VAT prevented by the intervention of Border Force officers at Manchester Airport.

“As this case demonstrates, Border Force are alert to smugglers whose activities are effectively stealing from the public purse. We will continue to work with HMRC to identify the people responsible for attempts like this and bring them to justice.”