JOINT raids between police and customs officials have seen illegal cigarettes worth £180,000 seized from four locations in Burnley and Pendle, it has been confirmed.

Operation Rhea saw the Lancashire force team up with HM Revenue and Customs officers to raid a shipping container at Waterford Street in Nelson and homes in Hind Street and Cleaver Street, Burnley, and Colne Road in Earby around Wednesday teatime.

Police have arrested a 19-year-old on suspicion of money laundering and he has been released on bail.

An estimated £180,000 worth of counterfeit cigarettes were recovered as part of the operation, with around 40 boxes seized containing both illegal tobacco and illicit alcohol.

Det Insp Simon Upton, of Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Over the last few months we have been receiving information that drugs and contraband cigarettes and tobacco have been brought into Lancashire and are being sold on from various premises.

“We suspect that this illegal activity also involves money laundering and the exchange of large sums of cash. These warrants are just the latest stage of this investigation which is aimed at disrupting this illegal activity.

“Lancashire Constabulary will always take positive action against organised crime groups who are committing crime in the county and today’s activity demonstrates our determination to crack down on those who seek to profit from crime.”

Sandra Smith, HMRC’s assistant director (criminal investigation), said: “This operation highlights the importance of our continued partnership with Lancashire Police and other police forces across the UK to help stamp out organised crime.

“The sale and supply of duty-free tobacco goods is a serious criminal offence, the profits of which help to fund the activities of many criminal gangs. Smuggling crime also costs the taxpayer millions in lost and unpaid revenue each year.”