The former owner of a convenience store has been jailed for six months for selling counterfeit cigarettes from the business over an 18-month period.
Warnings from police and Trading Standards officers were given such little regard by Aziz Abdullah that he was seen refilling his shelves with contraband tobacco while police were still filling out paperwork from their last raid.
Abdullah, 51, appeared at Bradford Crown Court on Thursday to be sentenced for 21 offences relating to the sale of counterfeit cigarettes and rolling tobacco.
The charges, which he pleaded guilty to at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court in April, relate to a period between October 2019 and March 2021 when he was owner of Doskey Food Store on Paley Road.
In that period the store was raided by police three times, and Abdullah, of Paley Road, warned that the good he was selling were illegal.
When police raided the store a fourth time and found he was still selling counterfeit cigarettes, he was arrested.
The court heard that the store had a hidden chute, linking the counter to a flat above. In this flat, packets of cigarettes were found in hidden compartments. When the person behind the counter called for the illegal stock, a pack of cigarettes would be dropped down the chute.
The court heard that the first raid took place on October 13 2019. After counterfeit cigarettes were found, police warned him that selling such items was illegal, and he would be prosecuted if he was caught doing it again.
Angus MacDonald, prosecuting, said: “This was a clear warning he would go on to ignore.”
Trading Standards visited the store for a test purchase the following month and were able to buy a 20 pack of Richmond cigarettes for just £3.50.
Police visited again on June 28 2020 when counterfeit items were found, although Abdullah was not present at the time.
Officers confiscated the counterfeit items, and while they were filling out paperwork Abdullah was seen entering the shop with a plastic bag. He then produced more packets of counterfeit cigarettes from this bag, and began re-stocking the shelves.
He was again told what he was doing was illegal.
Another test purchase took place in November 2020, where the undercover officer was again able to purchase illegal cigarettes.
During a third police visit that December officers saw no counterfeit goods on display, but discovered the hidden chute. It led to an upstairs flat where police found two “concealments” that when opened were found to have illegal cigarettes inside.
Abdullah was told for a third time that he was facing serious risk of prosecution if he continued selling these goods.
Another test purchase took place on March 8 2021, where an officer was able to buy counterfeit cigarettes.
Mr MacDonald said: “That was the final straw, and the defendant was arrested and charged.”
He said in total 27,000 counterfeit cigarettes were seized, as well as a large amount of tobacco.
The total tax avoided on these goods had essentially cost the Treasury over £9,000.
When interviewed he said he hadn’t realised that selling counterfeit cigarettes was illegal.
John Hobley, defending told the court that the chute and “concealments” had been installed as a precaution to prevent robbers from stealing expensive stock – rather than an attempt to hide counterfeit goods.
Referring to the multiple warnings, he said: “My client believed they were informing him of the restrictions on selling these products, not that they were illegal.
“There was some level of misunderstanding, the difficulty was English is not his first language.”
He said Abdullah was keen to get the matter behind him and start work again. He had since sold the shop. When Judge Andrew Hatton asked how much the shop had been sold for, Abdullah said it changed hands for £3,500.
Abdullah sent much of his earnings to his ill mother in Kurdistan, and she used this money for medical treatment.
Judge Hatton said: “You were providing a legitimate service from your store. But you were also, with considerable determination, providing an illegitimate service.
“The regulation of the sale of tobacco exists to protect public health. The taxes imposed on tobacco helps the treasury to provide services to the public.
“These services include NHS services that help people who damage their health by using tobacco products.
“You deliberately and with determination disregarded all of these regulations.
“You did so despite warnings by the authorities, and I reject the idea that it was a misunderstanding.”
He said the warnings from police and Trading Standards were “clear and unambiguous.”
Judge Hatton said he “could not begin to imagine” why Abdullah was not prosecuted after the second raid.
Referring to him restocking the shelves after one raid, Judge Hatton said: “You replaced items that had just been confiscated with further counterfeit goods taken from a carrier bag.
“You knew full well what you were doing, you simply did not care what the authorities said to you.”
He said although the cost in unpaid duty was put at £9,000, this was just based on what was confiscated from the shop, and there was likely to have been a huge number of cigarettes sold from the shop that police were not aware of.
Judge Hatton concluded: “Due to the nature of this offending, the appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody.”
He sentenced Abdullah to six months in prison.