Shop owner convicted for selling illegal tobacco
A shop owner in Cheltenham who went to extreme measures to try and avoid being caught for selling illegal tobacco and cigarettes has been sentenced to a suspended 16 week prison sentence, given a curfew and ordered to pay costs over £1,000.
Arshad Aziz, 34, also known as Marshkal Kirim, of Cambridge Street, Leicester, appeared at Cheltenham Magistrates Court earlier this week (19th September 2016) to face nine charges of selling illegal and counterfeit tobacco from his former shop premises, Sezon Delicatessen at 360 High Street, Cheltenham.
Gloucestershire County Council's trading standards team brought the case forward after it was discovered that illegal tobacco was being stored in the flat above the shop and was being dropped on demand down a pipe leading from the flat into a box behind the counter.
The shop assistant ordered the tobacco from the flat by placing dice on numbers stuck to the counter top. Each number referred to a brand and the number of dice indicated the number of packs requested. The countertop was monitored by someone in the flat using a CCTV camera.
Aziz took over the business in October 2015 and was visited in January 2016 by trading standards officers who left information for him warning of the consequences of selling illegal tobacco.
A test purchase the following week by a trading standards officer at Sezon showed that the advice had not been followed and that illegal tobacco was being sold for around £3 for a packet of 20 cigarettes and £9 for 50g of hand rolling tobacco.
Some of the tobacco sold from the shop was counterfeit of a genuine brand. In other cases, the tobacco was an unknown brand in the UK and had been smuggled to avoid duty.
Four more test purchases followed and on 3rd March 2016, trading standards officers, assisted by the police, entered the shop and flat and discovered 145 packets of 20 cigarettes and 68 pouches of 50g tobacco in the flat. This was worth around £1,050, with £1,400 of duty being evaded. Counterfeit copies of Golden Virginia and Amber Leaf were found. Other brands found included Fest, NZ and Viceroy cigarettes.
Aziz failed to appear in court on 4th September and was arrested by police after a warrant was issued by the court.
Aziz entered guilty pleas and magistrates sentenced him to a 16 weeks prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and a curfew between 9pm and 7am for four months. He was ordered to pay £1,000 towards prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £80.
His personal licence, issued to him under the Licensing Act 2003, was suspended for six months, and the court ordered forfeiture and destruction of all seized tobacco.
Cllr Nigel Moor, cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure said: "Trading standards will continue to prosecute shop owners who sell illegal tobacco from their shops, and make examples of those who do.
"The sale of illegal tobacco not only avoids taxation, it also undermines legitimate businesses in Gloucestershire and puts money into the hands of criminals deliberately flouting the law."
Cllr Andrew Gravells, cabinet member for public health, said: "Much of the tobacco recovered is a really serious cause for concern. Whilst we all know the dangers of smoking, counterfeit tobacco is often made without being subject to quality control and can be even more dangerous and harmful to your health than tobacco which is sold legitimately.
"I would like to urge and persuade smokers to stop supporting criminal activity by buying illegal tobacco and to seek support from the stop smoking services by calling 0300 421 0040 or visiting www.stopsmokingglos.nhs.uk."