Portsmouth shop owner admits selling illegal high strength tobacco

Cigarettes seized from Ali Abdulwahab by Portsmouth City Council.
Cigarettes seized from Ali Abdulwahab by Portsmouth City Council.
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A SHOP owner who blamed his employee for buying illegal strengthened tobacco was landed with a curfew order and told to pay £3,500 costs by magistrates.

Ali Abdulwahab, 43, of Cumberland Street, admitted 12 offences relating to selling high strength tobacco with fake labels when he was the owner of Albert Food Store in Albert Road in September 2017.

Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court heard how Trading Standards raided the defendant’s premises after being tipped off, leading to officers and sniffer dogs sweeping the store.

A ‘large box’ was discovered underneath the counter while a sniffer dog located a wall pillar where tobacco had been, prosecutor Lucy Conroy said.

‘Intelligence came in that illicit cigarettes were being sold leading to officers and canines going to the shop where they were being sold under the counter,’ Ms Conroy said.

‘The shop worker Hallo Adle Aziz, who was in the shop alone at the time, said he was told to sell the items.’

In total, the items retrieved would have retailed at just under £4,000 with a street value about half the value. 

Counterfeit packets, including Amber Leaf and Marlboro, were typically sold for £3 or £4.

The illicit packets also failed to carry appropriate health warnings and packaging.

During police interview the defendant claimed he was ‘unaware Mr Aziz sold the items’.

Charges against Mr Aziz were dropped.

Abdulwahab’s defence lawyer Jane Josley said: ‘A European man came into the shop when the defendant was not there. He was totally unaware the items were being sold. 

‘He did accept buying e-cigarettes from a market trader in Portsmouth. He does accept responsibility though as it was his shop.’

Kurdish/Iraqi Abdulwahab sold the shop after the incident and now works at a grocery shop in Fratton.

Magistrates ordered a three-month community order on the defendant where he has to remain at his address between 7pm and 7am until June 12. 

He also has to pay an £85 surcharge on top of the costs.

Councillor Dave Ashmore, cabinet member for environment and community safety said: ‘We’re working hard to minimise the access to illicit products in the city and I hope this prosecution sends a signal to other traders that selling illicit tobacco is serious and may result in prosecution.

‘It's vitally important that consumers of tobacco products know the content of the products they’re purchasing and don’t buy it if they are unsure.’