A VAN driver who tried to smuggle £130,000 of ill-gotten cash into the country has avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Lukasz Winniecki, 34, was stopped by Border Force officers at Harwich International Port in January.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard how they carried out a search of his Polish registered Renault van.

They uncovered the cash, which had been hidden away in the battery space in 16 foil packages.

Claire Cooper, prosecuting, said: “It is of note that package weighed nearly eight and a half kilograms.

“It was after the package had been discovered the defendant was arrested and taken to the police station, where he was interviewed under caution.

“He confirmed in that interview he was a self-employed driver and he had leased his van from a Polish company.”

Recorder Simon Mayo QC said Winniecki had played a “significant role” in efforts to bring criminal cash from one country to another.

He said: “You’ve pleaded guilty to an offence of concealing criminal property, namely £130,000 in cash.

“Shortly after 7 o’clock on January 21 this year, you were stopped at Harwich in your Polish registered Renault van by border force officers.

“An x-ray that was carried out on that van highlighted a potential irregularity within the vehicle and so a search was conducted of it.

“Behind a panel that was secured with screws, officers found a recess that would ordinarily be used for a battery.

“Within that recess they found a large number of foil packages, which themselves were wrapped in plastic.

“When examined, it was found those packages contained a total of £130,000 in ten and 20 pound notes.”

In mitigation, the court heard Winniecki is an intelligent man with a Masters degree in administration, who had started his own international transport business.

The court was told Winniecki cares for his 85-year-old grandfather, and he has had difficulty in making contact with his family from prison.

Winniecki, of Sielona Gora, Poland, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He must pay a £5,000 fine.

The judge added: “I’m giving you a chance.

“It’s up to you whether you take that chance.”