Fugitive cigarette smuggler behind bars

A fugitive cigarette smuggler is behind bars after more than two years on the run.

Lithuanian national, Haroldas Bernotas (pictured in main image), was part of a five-strong tobacco smuggling gang who smuggled more than 12 million illegal cigarettes, worth £3.6 million in duty and VAT, into the North East between 2013 and 2015.

The gang were caught red-handed unloading the cigarettes from the hollowed out concealments at an industrial unit in Stanley, County Durham, in April 2015.  Officers seized 1.2 million cigarettes, which had been smuggled into the UK from Ukraine by lorry in April 2015. Individual packets of the Winston Blue branded products had been packed in long plastic strips to fit inside the 171 modified cable drum discs.

All were convicted of excise fraud.

The 25 year old fled the UK, but was convicted after a trial at Durham Crown Court in May 2018 and sentenced to two years in jail in his absence. Two other members of the gang also failed to attend trial and are wanted by HMRC. They are pictured next to Bernotas below:

  • Linas Bernotas, 48, of Radviliškis, Lithuania
  • Dainius Pranskaitis, 47, formerly of Muirkirk Road, London

Left to right: Haroldas Bernotas, Linas Bernotas and ringleader Dainius Pranskaitis (image by HMRC)

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators have since been able to track Haroldas Bernotas to Lithuania where he was arrested on 6 June 2020. On 10 July 2020, he appeared at Durham Crown Court where his two-year jail sentence was confirmed.

The other two men who were involved in the gan have already been jailed over the smuggling plot. Egidijus Kairys, of Forest Lane, London, received a three-year prison sentence in May 2018, while Kristupas Strasunskas, of Klaipėda, Lithuania, was jailed for 18 months.

Nicol Sheppard, Assistant Director, Offender Management and Enforcement Team, HMRC, said:

“Haroldas Bernotas attempted to cheat justice, but even during lockdown HMRC has been working with partner authorities to relentlessly pursue fugitives of the law.  Within seven days of his extradition being agreed with the Lithuanian authorities, our officers had extradited Haroldas Bernotas back to the UK and he is now behind bars.”

Information about any type of tax fraud or the whereabouts of Dainius Pranskaitis and Linas Bernotas can also be reported to HMRC online at

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