A former Neath shopkeeper has been given a suspended jail term after Neath Port Talbot Council trading standards officers helped by sniffer dogs found counterfeit cigarettes hidden in the walls of his store.
Farid Rasheed Majeet, 32, of Clay Lane, Coventry, who had been trading at the Easy Shop in Queen Street, Neath, admitted a series of offences at Swansea Crown Court last month.
He pleaded guilty to three offences under the Trademarks Act 1994 for the sale of counterfeit products and one offence under the Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 for being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of excise duty
As well as being given a six month jail term suspended for a year he was also ordered to do 150 hours of community service.
The court heard Mr Majeet took over the Easy Shop in September 2015 and soon after, working on intelligence, enforcement officers from Neath Port Talbot Council’s Trading Standards department made a test purchase from the shop – with the defendant serving.
The court was told when an enforcement officer posing as a customer asked for cigarettes, the defendant went to the rear of the store out of sight and returned with a packet of 20 cigarettes branded as Mayfair.
As a result, Trading Standards officers returned to the premises to do a search.
Working with sniffer dogs, the officers found thousands of cigarettes and dozens of packs of tobacco in the attic of the premises with branding including Marlborough, Palace, Minsk, Pect, Amber leaf and Golden Virginia – all found to be fake.
A Bluetooth Tower Box was found to be stuffed with 800 “Marlborough” cigarettes and a search of the kitchen found a false compartment behind a cupboard - access to this area was gained by opening a kitchen wall cupboard, then sliding a rear panel upwards revealing access to a large wall alcove.
Hundreds of packs of cigarettes and packs of tobacco were found in the alcove.
A further test purchase of a packet of cigarettes was made from the store in October 2015, the Trading Standards department having received further information that the shop was still selling counterfeit cigarettes.
The officer paid £3.50 to Mr Majeet for a pack of cigarettes, the defendant later claiming it had been the only packet he had in his possession and had been intended only for his personal use.
Examples of the tobacco pouches and cigarettes found during the search were sent for examination and all proved to be counterfeit.
Shortly after, Easy Shop closed and the owner of the building later re-let the shop.
During renovations after Mr Majeet left, a concealed outlet was found between the shop and the rear ground floor foyer. A false double wall socket was also found in the shop held in place by a magnet and on the foyer side wall, panels could be slid aside enabling items to be passed through.
The HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs service) has informed the council’s Trading Standards Department that for the whole seizure of 29,540 cigarettes, the loss to the exchequer would be £7,153.14 in Excise Duty and £1,879.63 in VAT (total loss £9,032.77) and that for the 25.95 Kg of Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco the loss to the exchequer would amount to £4,819.95 in Excise Duty and £1,505.10 in VAT (total Loss - £6,325.05).
When questioned by trading standards officers, Mr Majeet denied all knowledge of the cigarettes and tobacco concealed in the attic and kitchen and indicated they must have been there prior to him taking over the shop. But he later made guilty pleas.
Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety Cllr. Des Davies said: “This was an important operation as counterfeit cigarettes undercut legitimate businesses and also endanger the health of those who buy them.”