Jail for illegal tobacco traders in Cheltenham and Gloucester
Three men were sentenced to prison yesterday and a fourth was given a community order for the sale and possession of illegal tobacco.
Four defendants, Oscar Sorani, Sartip Mahmud, Shamal Ahmed Arif and Sermend Karim appeared at Gloucester Crown Court yesterday (13th July) to face charges for illegal tobacco, much of which was unbranded and of unknown quality.
The case was brought by Gloucestershire Trading Standards Service following a series of inspections and test purchases at 'Zam Zam' 247 High Street, Cheltenham and 'General Store', County Chambers, Station Road, Gloucester.
All four men had entered guilty pleas for their offences before the sentencing hearing began.
When trading standards received information that the 'Zam Zam' shop was selling illegal tobacco it carried out two test purchases in February and March last year. On both occasions cigarettes were sold for well below the lawful selling price of over £9, and no UK duty had been paid.
An inspection was then carried out and 66 packets of 20 cigarettes and 48 pouches of 50g hand rolling tobacco were seized. All of the items, which had been hidden in a black sports bag in the store room of the shop, were illegal because they were not labelled for the UK market and no duty had been paid. The haul would have netted the shop £668 and evaded duty of £1080 if the items had been sold for their average legal selling price.
Three more test purchases were made later in March and illegal cigarettes were again sold from the shop. As a result, another inspection was carried out and trading standards officers seized 54 packs of 20 cigarettes and 16 pouches of 50g hand rolling tobacco. These items were also illegal because they were not labelled for the UK market and no duty had been paid. This time the shop would have netted £348 and evaded duty of £590 if the items had been sold for their average legal selling price.
A further eight test purchases were carried out at the end of March, in April and at the beginning of May where more illegal tobacco was bought, including some counterfeit Mayfair cigarettes which had been manufactured without any testing or control.
Another investigation then took place which found a further 92 packs of illegal cigarettes and 74 50g pouches of hand rolling tobacco which would have netted the shop £942 and evaded duty of £1218, if the items had been sold for their average legal selling price.
As a result of all this, yesterday in court the 'Zam Zam' shop owner Oscar Sorani faced 32 charges and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
It was a similar outcome yesterday for 'General Store' owner Sartip Mahmud who faced ten charges and was sentenced to nine months in prison after problems had been found at his shop.
The 'General Store' has a chequered history with the Gloucestershire Trading Standards Service for illegal tobacco and numerous owners of the shop have already been prosecuted for similar offences over the years, dating back to 2011.
At the end of May and the beginning of June last year two test purchases were made. On both occasions cigarettes were sold for well below the lawful selling price of over £9, and no UK duty had been paid.
Using a tobacco trained dog, an inspection was carried out and illegal tobacco was found in a complex hiding place in a metal door frame sealed with locks and a remote control. A seizure was made of 49 packs of 20 cigarettes and 65 pouches of 50g hand rolling tobacco which were illegal because they were not labelled for the UK market and no duty had been paid. The haul would have netted the shop £681 and evaded duty of £1168 if the items had been sold for their average legal selling price.
Just hours after the seizure another test purchase was made and more cigarettes were sold for well below the lawful selling price of over £9, and no UK duty had been paid. Three more test purchases were made later in June and again in July with the same outcome.
At the 'General Store' is wasn't only the owner who was sentenced yesterday, Shamal Ahmed Arif was sentenced to four weeks in prison for the sale and possession of illegal tobacco and Sermend Karim was sentenced to a 12 month community order, 120 hours of unpaid work and £250 costs for the possession of illegal tobacco.
His honourable judge, Jamie Tabor said, "The sale of illegal tobacco products in Gloucester and Cheltenham has been widespread... the time has come for this court to pass sentences that are a deterrent. Those that continue (to trade in illegal tobacco) can expect to go to prison."
Cllr Nigel Moor, cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure, said "Sixteen months in prison is the longest sentence ever given to an illegal tobacco trader in Gloucestershire and I hope this sends a strong message to anyone else who thinks about breaking the law in this way. We'll always take action whenever we find illegal tobacco."
Cllr Andrew Gravells, cabinet member for public health said, "Cheap and illegal tobacco manufacturers blatantly flout government standards, which means there could really be anything mixed in with the tobacco. It's a major health concern and that's why Gloucestershire County Council's public health and trading standards teams are working together to help tackle the problem."
If you have information about illegal tobacco in your area you can report it anonymously online at http://glos.tradingstandards.uk or by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.
If you want help to stop smoking contact Gloucestershire Stop Smoking Service on 0300 421 0040 or visit www.stopsmokingglos.nhs.uk.