A sophisticated system for hiding illicit tobacco has been uncovered by a quick thinking trading standards enforcement officer at Herefordshire Council.
The council’s trading standards team took a case against Mr Kursheed Kadir, proprietor of Zabka at 16 Eign Gate in Hereford to Hereford Magistrates Court on Tuesday 25 November, where Mr Kadir was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to undertake 150 hours unpaid work and to pay costs of £1,118 for supplying illicit tobacco.
The court heard that Mr Kadir, who took over the business last June, was caught in the act of selling illicit cigarettes on 4 July by a council officer who was visiting the premises in respect of an unconnected matter. Council officers then inspected the premises, but were unable to locate where the illicit product was being secretly stored.
On 29 July, with assistance from West Mercia Police, a warrant was executed at the premises and Mr Kadir’s sophisticated system of hiding the illicit tobacco was uncovered. Officers found that a wireless doorbell system was being used to alert staff located on the top floor of the premises, so that they could quickly move the illicit tobacco onto the flat roof of an adjoining building.
A 60cm wide opening had been made in a solid brick exterior wall, so that custom made trays of illicit cigarettes and counterfeit hand rolling tobacco could be pushed through the hole in a matter of seconds. The opening was then hidden behind skirting boards and shelving, so that officers would not be suspicious when they inspected the room. However, due to the quick reactions of a trading standards enforcement officer at the start of the raid and despite being hampered by staff, the officer was able to catch the staff in the middle of sliding the illicit tobacco onto the roof.
Mike Pigrem, head of trading standards and licensing, said “Illegal tobacco has strong links with crime and criminal gangs, so many of the people smuggling, distributing and selling it are involved in drug dealing, money laundering and people trafficking. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime and the council’s trading standards team is doing all within its powers to tackle this growing menace and potential health ‘time bomb’ within the county.”
Patricia Morgan, Cabinet member for corporate services, said: “The council fully supports trading standards and the police in cracking down on the illegal tobacco trade in our county. Peoples’ health is at risk, as children and young people are often targeted by those who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for them to get hooked on smoking. Cheap cigarettes also make it harder for people to quit and remain smoke free.”
If you have any information on people dealing illegal tobacco products, please contact trading standards on 01432 261761.