Shopkeepers busted with thousands of dodgy cigarettes and masses of counterfeit tobacco

Two shopkeepers who sold counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes to undercover Trading Standards investigators found themselves in the dock.

Ardalan Karimi, 32, and Shwan Hassan, 34, worked at the Castle Convenience Store in Stockport between 2017 and 2019.

During that time, there were multiple visits from Trading Standards officers, who discovered the store was selling cigarettes and rolling tobacco for less than the normal retail price – and with dodgy packaging, Minshull Street Crown Court heard.

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Despite repeated warnings, and searches of the premises, they continued selling the products.

In the Autumn of 2019, they were found with even more dodgy goods.

Karimi, from Gorton, Manchester, and Hassan, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to the selling of counterfeit goods; and selling goods with false trademarks.

The pair, who came to the UK from Iraq, avoided immediate jail sentences.

Minshull Street Crown Court
(Image: ABNM Photography)

Prosecutor Adrian Farrow earlier told the court that on November 21, 2017, Trading Standards and HMRC officers attended the shop on Castle Street.

No illicit products were found, but packaging for non-duty paid tobacco was discovered. A warning letter was sent to then-director Karimi.

In March 2018, an investigator was carrying out checks on Amber Leaf tobacco which was being sold in shops along Castle Street.

“All of the shops offered it for sale for a normal price, save for the Castle Convenience Store, who sold him a packet of what the owner purported to be Amber Leaf for £6, which was significantly less than the normal price,” Mr Farrow said.

“This was examined and found to be counterfeit and was reported to the Stockport Metropolitan Council Trading Standards.”

In June, an inspection was carried out.

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A customer was seen leaving the shop carrying a sleeve of Mayfair cigarettes. The packaging appeared to indicate they were counterfeit.

By law, the packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products must contain information related to the risk of using tobacco.

Karimi went into a room hidden behind a rug. Officers could hear a toilet flushing.

He was then arrested.

Officers found £560 in cash and counterfeit cigarettes behind the counter.

Karimi’s car contained two large bags containing 2,880 cigarettes and 1,500 grams of rolling tobacco. It was all found to be counterfeit.

“On January 28, 2019, Hassan took over as director, and on February 5 2019, another investigator visited the shop wearing covert video equipment,” Mr Farrow added.

“When he asked for Golden Virginia tobacco, he was referred to Amber Leaf, as well as a pack of Richmond cigarettes.”

He was handed the items from a panel in the wall by Karimi. Both were found to be counterfeit.

After another similar inspection, Trading Standards officials and police found a large quantity of cigarettes hidden in a ‘sophisticated magnetic concealment’ in the wall.

A total of 7,020 cigarettes and 3.8 kilograms of tobacco was also recovered from an area near the counter.

In Hassan’s car, officers found 19,800 Marlboro cigarettes which were not intended for sale in the UK.

In total, Karimi evaded £6,650 in tax duty. Hassan evaded £3,216.

Neither have previous convictions.

Mitigating for Karimi, Simon Hickey said his client bought the business in 2017 but struggled to ‘make a go of it’.

“He had little experience in that kind of business and found it all too easy to get involved in the selling of counterfeit and evaded duty cigarettes,” he said.

Mitigating for Hassan, Anam Khan said her client didn’t have links to anyone higher up the chain. He did not come up with the concealment of the tobacco, she added.

He has since gone back to college to gain qualifications in barbering and has opened up a new business, she said.

Judge Bernadette Baxter told Karimi: “You have come to this country from Iraq, fleeing the lawlessness and disorder and have gone on to set up a life for yourself in the UK, earning a living and looking after your family.

“Unfortunately, in doing so, when the shop fell on hard times you resorted to criminality.

“It’s clear you are either brazen and do not care about the law or you do not understand the enormity of what you are doing and how you have jeopardised your liberty.”

Karimi, of Engell Closet, was sentenced to 20 months, suspended for two years. He was ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and pay £4,000 in court costs.

Hassan, of Boothroyd Lane, was sentenced to 16 months, suspended for two years. He was ordered to do 50 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,600 in costs.

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