An attempt to smuggle enough tobacco to make 100,000 counterfeit cigarettes into Northern Ireland packaged as Chinese tea has been foiled by customs officers.
The haul was discovered at a postal distribution centre in Belfast. The fraud involved importing tobacco leaf from China to be used to produce cigarettes with an estimated street value of £25,000.
Mike Connolly, of specialist investigations at Revenue and Customs, said: "This form of criminality is motivated solely by greed and personal gain, costing around £2 billion per year in unpaid duty. This quantity of tobacco could have produced over 100,000 cigarettes, making a substantial profit for the criminals."
He added that the unregulated sale of illegal tobacco encouraged otherwise honest people to trade with criminals.
"We are keen to work closely with and support local businesses that have to compete against these illegal sales," he said.
The seizure of almost 50 kilograms of tobacco leaf was made yesterday.
In unrelated activity, HMRC officers searched a mobile shop in the Ballymena area on Monday and confiscated 3,640 illegal cigarettes. The vehicle was seized, costing the owner £600 to have it returned.
Investigations are continuing.