Store owner fined for selling illegal tobacco

Tobacco seized following the raid at Town Mini Market in Lowestoft.

Tobacco seized at Town Mini Market in Lowestoft during a raid in September 2021. - Credit: Suffolk Trading Standards

A shop owner has been prosecuted for selling illegal tobacco following a raid in Lowestoft.

Ahmed Shokoulty, 36, owner of Town Mini Market - a convenience store on Bevan Street East, Lowestoft - appeared at Ipswich Magistrates Court on Friday, June 24 after he had been charged with breaching tobacco packaging regulations.

It came after Suffolk Trading Standards had received intelligence that Shokoulty was selling illicit tobacco at his store last year, and they subsequently carried out a test purchase - where illegal tobacco was sold to an undercover operative posing as a customer.

After this sting, Suffolk Trading Standards raided the store in September 2021 as part of Operation CeCe, a national trading standards initiative in partnership with HMRC to tackle illegal tobacco.

This led to about 2,000 cigarettes and more than 7kg of hand rolling tobacco being seized.

The tobacco seized did not comply with tobacco packaging regulations and contained health warnings which were not written in English, as well as the packaging itself being of an incorrect colour.

In sentencing, Mr Shokoulty was issued with a fine of £5,000, £190 surcharge and £3,302.50 in costs - a total  of £8,492.50.

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Of the sentencing, Andrew Reid, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for public health and public protection, said: “I am delighted with today’s prosecution and would like to thank officers from Trading Standards for their continued commitment to ridding Suffolk of illegal tobacco trading.

“We know that illegal tobacco has been linked to organised crime, with this often acting as a gateway into the drug supply chain and people trafficking, making it far from a victimless offence.

“Consumers can play their part in stopping this by reporting illegal tobacco – helping keep it off the streets, putting pressure on sellers and sending a clear message that this crime will not be tolerated in Suffolk.”

Wendy Martin, director of National Trading Standards, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco harms local communities and affects honest businesses operating within the law.”

Anyone who suspects the sale of illegal tobacco in Suffolk should report this in confidence to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.