When it comes to evading investigations and inspections, it seems as though fraudsters and criminals need to start taking more evasive steps to add capture for any wrongdoing. This has been highlighted by a recent case involving a newsagent in Salford, who was caught selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco on his premises.
An investigation at Zaynes News in Greet Cheetham Street in Higher Broughton saw shop assistant Sarfraz Butt insisting that no counterfeit cigarettes or tobacco were on the premises. A cursory look around the premises didn’t highlight anything untoward but this is where a special member of the Trading Standards got involved. A sniffer dog managed to sniff out a stash of illegal tobacco in a backyard and after CCTV footage was seized and examined, a total of 28 illegal sales were captured in one morning.
The owner of the store, Saqib Mahmood from Blackburn, was found guilty of possession counterfeit tobacco for sale. This tobacco didn’t display the proper health warnings, which was a further aspect which saw the store owner in trouble. The case was heard at the Salford and Manchester Magistrates and Mahmood was sentenced to a 12 month conditional discharge with came with a supervisory requirement. Mahmood was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of work without pay while also being ordered to pay costs of £1,996 and a victim surcharge of £60.
Large number of counterfeit cigarettes uncovered
There was also an order to forfeit over 80 packets of hand rolling tobacco (of 50g) and 73 of these packets were found to be counterfeit. There was also a discovery of 600 cigarettes which were illicit. These seized cigarettes were found to have a value of £1,650. The shop assistant, Sarfraz Butt also pleaded guilty to the same offense and he was fined a total of £250 while being ordered to pay costs of £648 and a victim surcharge of £20.
In an even bigger blow to the store, they were stripped of their license to sell alcohol, a decision that the store is currently appealing. It is easy to see why this decision would be a massive blow to a store because a sizable proportion of the income that the store receives is likely to come from alcohol sales. You can see the point of the licensing department of the council being unwilling to trust the shop to play fair in what it does, and many will see this as being a suitable punishment for their activities, but there is no doubt that this is a decision which could place the livelihood of store employees and the store at risk.
Sniffer dogs are a vital component of Trading Standards investigations
In the raid, four packets of illicit cigarettes were uncovered beneath the till but it was the sniffer dog that drew the attention of officers to the backyard where they uncovered bin bag containing cigarettes and tobacco which didn’t hold the correct health warnings and markings that are required under UK law. There was also a two drawer filing cabinet located beneath the till which had further illicit content.
Under interview, Mr Mahmood stated that he was not at the store due to his presence attending to a family matter but he said that he kept an eye on the employees by CCTV to ensure that they were working. He stated that he had not seen any illegal sales take place but the CCTV footage then indicated that this wasn’t the case.
Councillor Gena Merrett is the Assistant Mayor for Housing and Environment and she spoke after the case, saying; “Tobacco carries health warnings for very good reasons. Mr Butt and Mr Mahmood knew they were not complying with UK law but chose to put profit above people’s well being.”
When you have material found on your premises and there is also video footage backing up the activity, it can be difficult to present any meaningful case against the charges that you face. However, this is where calling on an experienced defense solicitor who has an understanding of these cases can help to put forward as much mitigation as possible. In many cases, hiring a solicitor is not about looking to obtain a not guilty verdict, it is about ensuring that the punishment received is as fair as possible.