MEMBERS of a gang which smuggled nearly two million cigarettes into North Yorkshire - evading nearly half a million pounds in customs’ duties - have been jailed.

Undercover customs officers watched as a lorry driven by Leszek Liczner, containing the cigarettes hidden in IKEA containers, arrived at a remote yard in Thorpe Wood, Selby, from Holland last September.

York Crown Court heard how the gang’s organiser Marcin Muraczewski and assistant Piotr Wicko were waiting for it.

Wicko’s younger brother Michal had boxes to repackage the cigarettes before they were distributed.

Recorder James Baird, said before sentencing three of the men: “The loss in duty to this country and the affect that has in terms on monetary value is put at £437,000 or slightly more.”

Muraczewski, 37, of Cobham Close in Enfield, was sentenced to 30 months and his “trusted assistant”, Piotr Wicko, 32, of the same address was handed a 26 month sentence.

They had been given 25 per cent off their sentences due to early guilty pleas.

Recorder Baird said: “Each of you was involved in the importation of those cigarettes and I accept you each had differing roles.

Marcin Muraczewski, while I accept you were not the controller, you were its lynchpin.

You were in regular contact with the other three defendants, you undoubtedly had an organisational role. You were a trusted lieutenant directing others.”

Liczner, 49, of Lubsko in Poland, was sentenced to three years in prison as he had denied the charge and was found guilty of his involvement in smuggling after a trial.

The long-distance lorry driver had claimed he was just following his company’s orders when he went to a junction in Holland and was met by a man who took him to a warehouse.

After the IKEA containers were loaded onto his lorry, he left for a Manchester destination, via Dover and Nottingham, but at Nottingham he was diverted to Selby by the firm that had commissioned his company.

Mr Baird said he had given consideration to the fact that Liczner was suffering health problems and was of previous good character.

He said: “From what I heard, I am satisfied you were well aware of what was taking place and I have no doubt you would have profited from it.

“As a driver your role was a vital role. You were a willing participant.”

Michal Wicko, 27, of Cobham Close, Enfield, had claimed he was only doing Muraczewski a favour when he agreed to pick up the cardboard boxes in London and deliver them to the Selby yard. He will be sentenced today.