Three people have been sentenced for tax evasion after the seizure of more than 40,000 illicit cigarettes.
The haul was uncovered in July 2017, along with 15kg of hand rolling tobacco and cash in excess of £15,000, during searches in east Belfast. It followed an investigation by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF).
Darren Nicholl (38) of Belvoir Street, Gary Nicholl (37) of Downshire Park South, and Sarah Rice (35) of Belvoir Street, were sentenced at Belfast Crown Court yesterday.
All three pleaded guilty to tax evasion in March 2020. The Nicholl brothers had also pleaded guilty to possession of criminal property and money laundering charges.
Darren and Gary Nicholl were each sentenced to 18 months, suspended for three years.
Rice was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for three years.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the PSNI had searched their homes along with a retail premises on Belfast's Woodstock Road, seizing the cash and illicit tobacco as part of the PCTF investigation. Mobile phones were also seized.
Analysis of the phone data identified that all three suspects were involved in the supply of non-UK duty paid tobacco products for a substantial period of time from their home addresses and the retail outlet.
Almost £50,000 was also restrained in Darren Nicholl's bank account.
Steve Tracey, assistant director of HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service said: "Trade in illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us.
"It undermines legitimate traders, including small, independent shops that serve local communities, and takes funding away from our vital public services."