A jailed tobacco smuggler, who masterminded a plot to bring ten million illicit cigarettes into the UK and fled to Thailand to avoid capture, must pay back almost half a million pounds or face more time in prison.

Paul Joyce, 43, of County Durham, was jailed for two years and eleven months for tobacco fraud in October 2015, after being extradited from Thailand by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

He must now hand over £412,784 within three months or spend another four years behind bars and still owe the money.

Martin Lynagh, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Joyce brought millions of illegal cigarettes into the UK and pocketed money which should have been used to fund the public services we rely on. His crimes landed him behind bars and now he must repay the proceeds of his crime.

“HMRC will not tolerate criminals who create an uneven playing field for legitimate businesses. Our actions don’t stop once someone is convicted and we will always look to reclaim the stolen money. Anyone with information about tax fraud should report it to HMRC online or contact our hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Joyce, originally of Consett, ran a gang that was caught six times trying to ship a total of ten million non-UK duty paid cigarettes, by passing off their illicit cargo on import paperwork as everything from clothing to dog food.

He fled the country just hours before other gang members were due to be re-interviewed in December 2008 by HMRC investigators.

Evidence against Joyce began to mount following his disappearance and an examination of airline records revealed he had jetted to Bangkok.

HMRC secured a warrant for his extradition and after more than six years on the run, Joyce was captured at a luxury hotel in the coastal resort of Hua Hin by Thai police.

After ten weeks in a Thai jail, Joyce was brought back to the UK and sentenced.

Joyce was ordered to repay £412,784 he made from his crimes within three months at Newcastle Crown Court on 6 August 2018. If he does not meet the requirements of the confiscation order, he faces another four years in prison.

The court considers the assets owned by the offender and sets the confiscation amount accordingly. Joyce owns properties in Newcastle upon Tyne and Stocksfield.

Information about any type of tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at https://www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business