Illicit Tobacco Dealers Sentenced

Thursday 10 February

On the 9th February 2022, Mr Ali Mohamad from Bradford and Mr Aram Ahmed Mohammedie from Leeds appeared at Leeds Crown Court for selling illegal cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco at their business, Mama Mia Convenience Store Ltd, 274 Harehills Lane, Leeds, LS9 7BD.

Both had previously pleaded guilty. Mr Ali Mohamad was sentenced to a 9 week custodial sentence suspended for 18 months. He is also not allowed to leave his home between 7pm-7am for 4 weeks.

Mr Aram Ahmed Mohammedie was given a community order for 18 months and ordered to complete 120 hours unpaid work.

Cash seized during one of the inspections, totalling more than £30,000 was also forfeited by the defendants.

The premises was well known to West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service (WYTSS) with the Service having received many complaints about the premises supplying illicit and duty free tobacco.

In June 2020, the police recovered illegal tobacco from behind the counter and from an upstairs room. The total amount seized was 2,757 x 20 packets of cigarettes and 496 x 50g pouches of hand rolling tobacco.

Warnings to stop the illegal activity were ignored.

In November 2020, a test purchase was made by Trading Standards at the Mama Mia Convenience Store. A counterfeit packet of cigarettes was purchased for £5.00.

Later in November 2020, an inspection visit was conducted by Trading Standards. During the inspection, illegal tobacco products were recovered from bags on the floor in the rear store room and at the base of the stairs leading to the first floor. Tobacco was found to be hidden in a concealment in the rear store room wall and a concealment in the first floor ceiling behind a ceiling light. The total amount seized was 1,230 x 20 packets of cigarettes and 167 x 50g pouches of hand rolling tobacco. The shop was also stacked high with imported high strength lager and vodka and so HMRC officers were notified and attended at the shop. HMRC seized over 970 litres of non-UK duty paid vodka which had an estimated duty plus VAT evaded of £15,000.00.

In February 2021, more illegal tobacco was recovered from boxes on top of display shelving towards the back of the store.

In September 2021, another test purchase was made by Trading Standards. Despite the 3 previous seizures from the store and a pending court appearance for the 2 company directors, the store was continuing to sell illegal tobacco.

In September 2021, a small van was parked on the road at the rear of the shop with its side door open wide, directly opposite the shop rear door which was also open, with just the pavement width between them. The van was full of boxes and bags of illegal tobacco. A further small amount of cigarettes was recovered from the shops rear extension roof void. The total amount seized was 1,253 x 20 packets of cigarettes and 79 x 50g pouches of hand rolling tobacco.

The total amount of illegal tobacco seized from Mama Mia Convenience Store by police and Trading Standards was 5,431 x 20 Cigarettes (108,620 Sticks) & 892 x 50g HRT (44.6kg). All 6,323 items seized were not in the standardised format as required by The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and were in violation of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 as the prescribed health warnings were not present in English. The loss of excise duty on the seized tobacco would have been around £47,000.00.

The Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme, funded by the five Public Health departments, is helping people to stop tobacco use for good by educating the public and by investigating traders who supply cheap and illicit tobacco. The initiative uses multi-agency enforcement and community marketing campaigns to tackle the problems of the illicit trade.

To date the programme has taken more than 8 million illicit cigarettes and more than two and half tonnes of illicit hand rolling tobacco off the streets of West Yorkshire. With more inspections planned in the coming weeks, these figures are set to increase. Training sessions with thousands of members of the public and hundreds of front line professionals have been delivered to raise awareness about the dangers and wider criminality associated with the supply of illicit tobacco.

Linda Davis, West Yorkshire Trading Standards Manager said, “This case shows how seriously the courts view these sales and this should serve as an example to others who might break the law and risk children's health. It is also linked to organised crime, human trafficking and contributes to an underground economy worth hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Councillor Pauleen Grahame, Member of the West Yorkshire Joint Services which oversees the work of Trading Standards said, “All tobacco – both legal and illegal – kills half of all long term smokers. Children and young smokers are often targeted by people who sell illegal cigarettes, making it even easier for them to get hooked on smoking. The people making money out of this do not care who they sell to. I would like to thank all the partners and members of the public for reporting illegal sales and encourage everyone to continue doing so to reduce the harm caused by tobacco in our communities.”

If you need to report a trader selling cheap and illicit tobacco please contact the Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 0000 or report it at https://keep-it-out.co.uk/ anonymously.

More information about the campaign can be found on the website and anyone wanting help to quit can find their local Stop Smoking Service at

https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree

 

Notes to Editor

For further information please contact Babul Hussain babul.hussain@wyjs.org.uk

Images are of some of the seized items