FOUR premises in Bury have been raided by revenue and customs officers who seized equipment used to make counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco products.

Two 35-year-old men from Bury, and two from Blackburn, aged 41 and 29, have been arrested on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty, estimated at costing the taxpayer £5 million.

Officers swooped at an industrial unit and three homes in Bury, and another premises in Blackburn on April 3, seizing cash, chemical agents, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery.

They also raided a farm in Essex on April 23, where a 42-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion of evading excise duty.Customs bosses say the raids were part of a large organised criminal network, worth £5 million in unpaid tax and VAT.

Officers had initially raided premises in Preston in November last year, and linked the criminal enter-prise to premises in Bury and Blackburn.

The officers seized more than three tonnes of raw tobacco at the processing plant in Essex, which was then being converted into counterfeit handrolling tobacco at the unit in Bury.

The tobacco products were packaged in Bury, in recognisable packaging which was designed to look authentic.

All of the tobacco which has been seized as a result of the raids will be burned to fuel the National Grid.

Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigation at HM Revenue Customs, urged smokers to be careful if they come across cheap tobacco.

She said: “It is clear that this gang planned to produce and sell illegal tobacco products across the UK. Illicit tobacco factories are pack-aging low quality tobacco and I’d urge people to be wary.

“Cheap tobacco may seem like a bargain, but there are no controls over what is mixed into the counterfeit product and by buying it smokers are funding international organ-ised crime gangs.”

Anyone with inform-ation about transport, storage or sale of cheap cigarettes can call 0800 59 5000.