'Greedy' Southsea shopkeeper dodges jail after being caught selling thousands of 'dangerous' fake cigarettes
A ‘GREEDY’ shopkeeper caught selling thousands of ‘dangerous’ counterfeit cigarettes and laundering £40,000 has dodged jail.
Mariwan Ahmed was caught red handed stashing thousands of fake fags and packets of tobacco at his former shop, the Albert Road Food Store in Southsea.
The 41-year-old, of Albert Road, was raided on three separate occasions by Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team between July 31, 2018 and September 17, 2019.
Using sniffer dogs, investigators found Ahmed had stashed away his knock-off cigarettes in a secret panel behind a refrigerator, as well as behind a concealed wall panel at the top of a display shelf.
In all, some 8,580 counterfeit cigarettes and 5.39kg of tobacco were seized, Portsmouth Crown Court heard.
Tests on the cigarettes revealed that 2,900 were dangerous, containing more tar, nicotine and releasing more carbon monoxide than was safe.
Hundreds of other cigarettes were deemed a fire risk. Investigators also found cigarette packages failed to contain the proper health warnings and breached other industry regulations.
Prosecutor Duncan Milne told the court Ahmed had admitted buying the ‘illicit tobacco’ from some ‘Polish or Romanians’ who regularly visited his shop and pleaded guilty to laundering some £40,000.
Speaking of Ahmed’s hidden caches, the prosecutor added: ‘The defendant told the officers he had hidden the tobacco because he knew it was illegal.
‘He made a lot of profit – although he reneged on that in interview to say it was not a lot of profit.’
Ahmed, of previous good character, admitted all charges against him.
Defending, Jason Halsey said his client ‘was naive’ and ‘out of his depth’, and had most likely been ‘exploited’ by others ‘further up the feeding chain’ of a suspected criminal enterprise.
Mr Halsey added: ‘This shop and this business has a history of selling illicit tobacco.
‘Mr Ahmed is not the first shopkeeper or owner of this business that’s been prosecuted.
‘It’s probably obvious to say but it looks like there were others further up the feeding chain who may have had a greater role in what was going on.
‘Mr Ahmed doesn’t fit the profile of an experienced and successful small businessman.
‘He is an asylum seeker from Iran. He is not unintelligent but he is not particularly well educated.
‘Because of that his employment history in the years he has been here has been rather chequered, being limited to work at car washes, at garages and fixing cars.
‘Now here we have him, nearly two years ago, running a business… He was naive… he was exploited.’
Mr Halsey urged the court not to send Armed to prison, saying his client had a young child on the way and insisting Ahmed had a good chance of rehabilitation.
Sentencing Ahmed to a term of two years behind bars, suspended for two years, judge William Ashworth told the crooked shopkeeper: ‘You were motivated by greed.
‘There was easy money to be made without any of the stresses of proper business work or paperwork and there was profit to be made in ignoring the risks that you were putting customers to by selling dangerous products.’
Ahmed was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and undertake 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.
Speaking after the case, Councillor Dave Ashmore, Portsmouth’s head of community safety and the environment, said the sentence would send a ‘clear message’ to other crooks in the city.
‘The supply of counterfeit and illicit tobacco damages the health of our communities by exposing consumers to unregulated and often highly poisonous products,’ he added.
‘It particularly preys on our young people and those in financial difficulty who already have disproportionate impacts from smoking harms.
‘Portsmouth City Council's trading standards team will continue to pursue those who supply such products and, where possible, bring them before the courts.
‘I am pleased at today's result as the sentence sends a clear message that this damaging illicit trade will not be tolerated in Portsmouth.’