A shop owner involved in a complex conspiracy to supply and sell illicit cigarettes from shops in Sutton-in-Ashfield and Nottingham city has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison at Nottingham Crown Court today (Thursday 27 July).
Hersh Mohammed, 40, of Warner Street Derby, was found guilty of two offences against the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the unauthorised use of trademarks and conspiracy to possess dangerous goods for supply from April 2014 to February 2016.
In addition, he was found guilty of four offences against the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 for possessing over 65,000 illicit cigarettes seized from a property he was connected to, including Pect, NZ Gold and Minsk brands.
Shop worker Alain Ali, 34 of Ivy Square, Derby, also pleaded guilty to two offences against the Criminal Law Act 1977 and received a 12-month sentence suspended for two years, 120 hours of unpaid work and a three-month curfew between 7pm and 7am for his involvement.
Outram Stores on Outram Street in Sutton-in-Ashfield, and Super Obchod and ‘Krasnal’ stores on Radford Road were used to sell the counterfeit and untaxed tobacco products.
A total of 185,640 illicit cigarettes and 26.8kg of illicit tobacco were seized by trading standards officers at Nottinghamshire County and Nottingham City Councils as part of the case.
Super Obchod was found to have a false wall hiding 40,000 illicit cigarettes in a storage area and 125,000 cigarettes were seized from a property and vehicle connected to Alain Ali.
A ‘Pringles’ potato chip tin, which was made to look like it was unopened and contained over £1,000 in cash from the suspected sale of illicit tobacco, was found during one raid of Outram Stores.
The County Council has a taskforce to combat the supply and sale of counterfeit and untaxed cigarettes in the county and its work has so far led to 77 prosecutions amounting to 14 and half years of jail sentences, 2,365 hours of unpaid work and £7,990 in fines.
Councillor Gordon Wheeler, Vice-Chairman of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Communities and Place Committee, said: “This was a disgraceful case involving a number of individuals and shops selling thousands of illicit cigarettes over a two-year period, putting many lives at risk.
“Illicit cigarettes tend to be cheaper in price, going against the Government’s pricing policy which aims to encourage smokers to quit for the benefit of their health.
“We are pleased that the leading figure Hersh Mohammed has received a significant sentence for his role in this operation, which sends a strong message to other potential sellers that this kind of activity doesn’t pay and we will hunt them down.”
Nottingham City Council’s Portfolio holder for Community and Customer Services, Councillor Toby Neal, said: “All smoking is dangerous but smoking illegal tobacco could potentially be even more harmful to health because the trade in counterfeit and illicit tobacco is unregulated so there is no control over what is mixed with the tobacco.
“It also seriously impacts on local businesses that are trading legitimately but lose trade to rogue shopkeepers.”
Illicit cigarettes are more of a fire hazard as they do not meet current safety standards requiring them to extinguish when left unattended.
Anyone with information about people selling counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes in their area should call Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.
People can also ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or by visiting www.crimestoppers-uk.org.uk
For free support to quit smoking contact a stop smoking advisor on 0800 2465343 or text QUIT to 66777. For the locations of clinics visit www.smokefreelifenottinghamshire.co.uk