An Exeter shopkeeper has been found guilty of selling ‘fake’ branded tobacco and avoiding paying more than £25,700 of duty.
Kamal Omar Suleiman, 32, leaseholder of the Quick Stop Shop, 143b Fore Street, Exeter, was sentenced to a 15 week prison sentence, suspended for a year, at Exeter Magistrates Court on Thursday 13 April.
Suleiman, who pleaded guilty to possessing and selling counterfeit tobacco and keeping and concealing illicit tobacco, on which duty had not been paid, was also ordered to complete 150 hours unpaid work and to pay £5000.
It follows a successful prosecution by Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service after a joint investigation which involved HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Devon and Cornwall Police.
In total 21.15 kilogrammes of counterfeit branded Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco and 996 packs of 20 fake Regal cigarettes were seized from two locations.
The court heard that police, trading standards and HMRC officers raided his Exeter shop in February 2016, and when asked if he sold illegal tobacco he said ‘yes’ and produced a small amount from under the counter.
The officers then searched the shop and a sniffer dog found a large amount of tobacco hidden in a compartment behind a wall in the kitchen.
Later the same day cigarettes and rolling tobacco were found in a container rented by Suleiman at an Exeter self-storage firm.
Magistrates said because of his ‘sustained and deliberate’ storage, supply and concealment of the tobacco a custodial sentence was appropriate.
Paul Thomas Head of Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service said:
“One in every six cigarettes and more than half of hand rolling tobacco smoked in the South West is either illicit, without the duty being paid, or counterfeit, copying established brands.
“The sale of illegal tobacco is big business and undercuts local businesses who are trying to operate in difficult economic conditions.
“Because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age it encourages children and young people to start smoking.
“Counterfeit tobacco also presents a genuine added health risk, above and beyond that of legal tobacco.
“It isn’t subjected to the same quality control checks as legal tobacco is and is often found to include high levels of contaminates which are not present in legally produced tobacco.”
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