A convenience store owner has been jailed for nine months after illicit tobacco was discovered in his store during five separate raids over the last 18 months.
Muzafar Sabir Sabah, proprietor of Shop and Save in Hinckley, Leicestershire, admitted five counts under the Trade Marks Act 1994 and five of supplying tobacco products without a health warning, between June 2016 and January this year.
The store had been fitted out with a number of secret compartments to hide the illicit stock, including behind a false tiled kitchen wall, under window panelling near the till and inside an air conditioning unit.
The defendant, who did not have day-to-day running of the shop, claimed his employees had continued to flout the law despite the repeated enforcement action.
Nadia Silver, prosecuting, said: “The illicit tobacco relates to products that may be genuine but not intended for the UK market and carried no health warnings in English.
“In respect of both types of product no excise duties were paid on importation. The defendant was more than a figurehead of the business, he was employing those who were selling the products.”
In February last year, a tobacco search dog indicated there was something behind a tiled wall in the shop’s kitchen.
Silver said: “It was apparent a plug socket attached to the wall was fake and that a plastic casing from the plug didn’t contain any electrical wires.”
A key fob found nearby operated a magnetic opening mechanism containing counterfeit and illegal tobacco.
The concealment included 76 packets of fake Richmond cigarettes and a number of genuine well-known brands and tobacco pouches, originally destined for overseas markets, and without health warnings.
The court heard that the illegal value of the hundreds of packets and dozens of pouches seized was £3,967 – but the loss in equivalent genuine sales would have been considerably more.
As well as being jailed, Muzafar was ordered to pay £800 court costs.
Judge Martin Hurst said: “It was a reasonably sophisticated retail operation of counterfeit and undutied tobacco. You knew what was going on at the shop and allowed it to continue so you and others would have been making significant profits.
“It wasn’t negligence, it was deliberate. You should have supervised the shop more vigorously or simply closed it down – just trying to transfer the lease wasn’t good enough.
“You continued even after being summonsed to court.”
After the sentencing, Leicestershire County Council leader Nick Rushton said: “As this case illustrates, the courts take the supply and sale of illegal tobacco products very seriously. It’s clear that this type of activity can seriously affect the local economy and the communities which support it.”
Karen Retallic, leader of the illegal tobacco team at Trading Standards, said: “We will continue to disrupt and crack down on illegal supplies and we urge anyone with concerns about the sale of cheap cigarettes to report it to us.”