Richard David Curtis, 57, was sentenced to three years and nine months prison in January after a trial heard 5.7 million cigarettes were found hidden beneath boxes of frozen chips inside his HGV at the Port of Dover.
On Tuesday evening, just a day after HMRC launched an appeal to track him down, the smuggler was arrested at a pub in Jacksdale, near Nottingham, when a member of the public recognised him after seeing his mug shot in the local news.
Alan Tully, assistant director of the fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: “I would like to thank the public and the media for their assistance in putting Richard Curtis where he belongs, behind bars instead of in front of one socialising in the pub. Honest members of the public won’t tolerate crooks who steal from the public purse. And they certainly won’t tolerate crooks who think they can cheat justice and brazenly walk the streets.
“Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.4 billion a year in lost duty. I urge anyone with information on this type of fraud to contact the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Curtis, of Kings Wood Close, Bawtry, South Yorkshire, appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on Wednesday before being sent to prison. He will reappear before the court on April 26 to be sentenced for bail offences.
The fraud was uncovered when Curtis’ lorry was stopped by Border Force after arriving on a ferry from Calais at the Kent port on 18 November 2013.
Paperwork provided by Curtis gave the illusion he was carrying a cargo of chips and potato waffles, bound for a frozen food store in Warrington, Cheshire.
But during a search, officers discovered 5,729,900 cigarettes, on which duty of £1,308,321 had not been paid, hidden beneath boxes of frozen chips.
The smuggler told HMRC he had spent the weekend with an old girlfriend in Bruges, Belgium, before collecting the frozen food and travelling back to Dover via Calais. Curtis said he was unaware the lorry contained illicit cigarettes.
A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear at a pre-trial hearing in November 2016.
Curtis was found guilty of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty in his absence following a four-day trial at Maidstone Crown Court on January 4 this year and jailed for three years and nine months.