UK Smuggled Tobacco Case Goes to Trial; Prosecutor Cites Self-Storage Evidence

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Two people accused of smuggling and storing £2 million (more than $3.2 million) worth of tobacco at a British self-storage facility are now standing trial in Leeds Crown Court for fraudulent duty evasion.

Managers at a Big Yellow Storage facility in Leeds alerted customs agents of a pervasive smell coming from three units in April of last year. At first, staff thought it was drugs. An investigation revealed tobacco was concealed in the soles of thousands of pairs of flip-flops in 915 cardboard boxes.

The tobacco warranted a £1.2 million (more than $1.9 million) duty to the British government. Authorities used the tenants' address on file with the facility to track down the tobacco source. When they went to the adddress, they found evidence of a tobacco repackaging enterprise. Suspects Zhi Qing Cai and Liu Hua Zhu, who had been renting the storage unit since Dec. 11, 2009, were eventually arrested.

The prosecuting attorney told the jury a semi-trailer arrived at the facility Jan. 14, 2010, and Zhu and Cai spent the day unloading cardboard boxes. Big Yellow employees arranged for the tenants to get a second unit because of the size of the delivery. After unloading, the suspects reportedly offered flip-flops to facility staff as gifts.

The tenants would frequently visit the unit, the prosecutor said in court, often bringing their children to ride on the facility's play trolley while they would access the unit. A particularly large and suspicious delivery in April, along with the smell, inspired facility staff to call the police.

Zhu was arrested immediately after the initial investigation in April. Cai wasn't arrested until October when he was reprimanded in Scotland.

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