A Catford cigarette smuggler remains on the run after three of his fugitive accomplices were jailed in the UK over a multi-million pound operation. 

Dainius Pranskaitis, formerly of Muirkirk Road, failed to attend trial and is wanted by HMRC.

Linas Bernotas, 48, is the third member of the five-man organised crime gang to be extradited back to the UK by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Last month his son and fellow gang member, Haroldas Bernotas, 25, was returned to serve a two-year sentence after spending two years on the run.

Both men were key members of a criminal network that smuggled more than 12 million illegal cigarettes, worth £3.6 million in duty and VAT, into the North East between 2013 and 2015.

Linas Bernotas fled the UK ahead of a trial at Durham Crown Court in May 2018. He was jailed in Denmark in December 2019 for his part in what is believed to be the country’s largest ever tobacco smuggling plot.

News Shopper: Linas Bernotas

He was deported to Lithuania on his release, where he was arrested on 14 July 2020, under a European Arrest Warrant.

On 31 July HMRC officers brought Bernotas back to the UK and he appeared at Durham Crown Court on Thursday August 13, where he was ordered to serve his two-and-a-half-year sentence.

Nicol Sheppard, Assistant Director, Offender Management and Enforcement Team, HMRC, said: “We are determined to tackle organised crime groups and stop the misery they inflict on communities.

"In the last year alone, our enforcement action against organised crime secured and protected more than £3.1 billion and 1,195 organised criminals have been prosecuted since 2011.

“We have now succeeded in extraditing three more convicted criminals in this case and will continue to pursue the remaining gang member Dainius Pranskaitis, 47.

"If anyone has information about his whereabouts, please report it online at GOV.UK or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Haroldas was also convicted in his absence in May 2018.

He fled to Lithuania but was arrested in June 2020 and brought back to the UK, where he is now serving a two-year sentence.

The father and son were initially arrested by HMRC officers in April 2015 after they and other gang members were caught unloading a shipment of 1.2 million cigarettes at an industrial unit in Stanley, County Durham.

The illegal goods were smuggled into the country concealed inside wooden cable drum discs.

Two other men have already been jailed over the smuggling plot.

Egidijus Kairys, of Forest Lane, London, received a three-year prison sentence in May 2018, while Kristupas Strasunskas, of Klaipėda, Lithuania, was jailed for 18 months.

Strasunskas fled to Lithuania before he was sentenced, but he was apprehended and brought back to the UK in January 2019.