Ipswich trader prosecuted for illegal tobacco sales

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An Ipswich trader has been sentenced to two years imprisonment - suspended for two years for offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Trade Marks Act 1994.

illegal tobacco salesHe was also sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years for offences under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 and the Tobacco and Related Product Regulations 2016.

He was also ordered to complete 240 hours of unpaid work in the community. Any further offending within the two year period, or failure to complete the community service will result in the activation of all or part of the suspended sentence.

Hedi Ibrahim, trading as IKI Grocery Store in Franciscan Way, Ipswich, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court after pleading guilty to violations of the 1994 Trade Marks Act and the 2006 Fraud Act along with breaches of General Product Safety Regulations, and Tobacco and Related Products Regulations.

A case was made against Ibrahim, owner of the store, after a search of the premises was conducted in December 2016. More than 2,500 illegal cigarettes and 57 packets of hand rolling tobacco were found and seized – along with £1,000 in cash.

Following the seizure, evidence was sent to relevant trademark holders as well as a product safety laboratory for testing. A quantity was found to be counterfeit, infringing the trademarks of Regal, Richmond, Winston and Marlboro.

A number of the cigarettes were also found to be unsafe, without any self-extinguishing protection built into them. A large quantity was found to have been imported illegally, failing to bear health warnings in English.

Evidence obtained from the premises on the day of the search, and subsequent formal interviews led to admissions by the 32-year-old to making 35 sales of tobacco under the counter in six hours on the day of the search, including a single sale of 30 packets of Golden Virginia, valued at £270. The evidence obtained established that profit from illegal tobacco would be in the region of £620 a day.

The fraud charge showed there were ongoing and concerted sales of illegal tobacco making up a significant part of the businesses activity.

Hedi Ibrahim now faces a confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the money he made.

In sentencing, Judge Goodin said:

"Operating a part or mostly genuine business, you were presented with the opportunity to sell dodgy tobacco, some counterfeit, some dangerous and some not packaged correctly. Most alarming is that a letter was left for you in July 2016 and a visit followed on the 12th of December 2016 by Trading Standards. You clearly knew who they were [Trading Standards Officers], as they announced themselves and you made yourself scarce. The offending took place over a 4-5 month period.”

Considering Mr Ibrahim had no previous convictions the sentencing is a fitting outcome to match the level of offending and places the future of the trading taking place from the shop under a great deal of scrutiny.

Councillor Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, said:

“Compelling evidence showed Ibrahim was using his store as a front for the selling of illegal tobacco and cigarettes. These cigarettes, while cheap, are often extremely dangerous and are sold at pocket money prices. Those who sell illegal tobacco do not discriminate to whom they sell to. Children are therefore able pick up these products easily and could therefore become addicted.

“Cigarettes sold legally also provide vital tax revenue, so the public purse is protected, by keeping illegal products off the streets and out of stores.

“Those found to be storing, selling or distributing illegal tobacco could also face losing their alcohol licence if they hold one, as well as being prosecuted.

“I would urge anyone who is aware of a premise selling illegal tobacco or cigarettes to report it in confidence by contacting Trading Standards on 0345 4040 506.”