SMUGGLED goods worth £170,000 have been seized in raids across the North East.
Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) searched 13 lock-ups in the region, including Sunderland.
Working with sniffer dogs, they recovered more than 500,000 illicit cigarettes and 276 kilos of smuggled hand-rolling tobacco in an operation targeting self-storage units.
In Sunderland, the seizures included 24 kilos of hand rolling tobacco and 116,100 assorted brand-name cigarettes.
Officers also seized 657 litres of wine and 1,344 litres of beer on which no duty had been paid.
In Newcastle, officers seized 159,000 cigarettes and 105 kilos of hand rolling tobacco from two storage units, a private address and a business.
One car was seized after more than 5,000 cigarettes were found, along with £2,400 in cash.
Another haul of contraband, which included 228,955 cigarettes and 146 kilos of hand rolling tobacco, was discovered in a caravan at a site in Middlesbrough.
The evaded excise duty and VAT on the smuggled alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco is estimated as being £170,000.
Diane Donnelly, assistant director of Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said: “We know that self-storage sites are often used to hide illegal goods such as duty-free cigarettes and tobacco and alcohol.
“These will inevitably end up on the black market. Storing duty-free goods is a criminal offence and we will make every effort to stop those criminals who attempt to make money from smuggling.
“This success shows the important role that cooperation has in defeating crime and protecting our community.
“We would ask anyone with information relating to this type of crime to contact the customs hotline on 0800 59 5000 and help us stamp it out.”
Investigations into the seizure are ongoing.
There are no restrictions on the amount of alcohol and tobacco that can be brought into the UK from the EU, provided the goods are for personal use and duty has been paid.