A 26 month prison sentence for Arkani Muradi of Euro Shop, Wolverhampton and Alligator Stores, Sandwell is a significant success in the fight against illegal tobacco.
This investigation was started by Wolverhampton Trading Standards in 2014 after Imperial Tobacco’s AIT team shared intelligence provided by members of the public. Itprovides an excellent example of the value of partnership working, bringing together the resources and skills of law enforcement officers from Trading Standards, Police and HMRC alongside Industry expertise with assistance of tobacco search dogs.
During raids on two shops in Wolverhampton in August 2014 and June 2015, c 100,000 illegal cigarettes were seized. Further investigations led to a 3rd raid in July 2015, which also included the search of a flat above the Euro Shop premises; which proved to be an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of counterfeit cigarette and hand rolling brands. The goods were cleverly concealed under floor boards and within the walls of the flat. This raid included Trading Standards, Police, Tobacco dog ‘Scamp’ and his handler as well as a member of the Imperial Tobacco AIT team; it revealed over 380,000 cigarettes and 35 kg of hand rolling tobacco. Tobacco was also discovered in a stove, behind drinks shelves and near coffee to try and put off the sniffer dogs. You can watch the raid unfold here.
Subsequently in November 2015 a further visit to the premises in Wolverhampton revealed a new storage facility had been constructed in the yard. An examination revealed the internal and external dimensions differed by 6 feet! The photographs below show the cunning concealment with the dog in attendance.
Not satisfied with his exploits in Wolverhampton, Muradi, who used a series of false identities to conceal his activity and ownership, was also operating the Alligator Stores at Sandwell, which was under investigation by HMRC. Investigators discovered more than 246,000 illegal cigarettes at a further storage unit, hidden in boxes packaged as crisps and sausages. Muradi tried to cover his tracks by ending his rental agreement for the unit, using yet another alias but was found out when officers recognised it as one he’d previously used in a telephone conversation with them.
Richard Young, assistant director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said:
“Muradi made elaborate attempts to evade capture and continued to trade in illicit tobacco and alcohol stealing from taxpayers and honest retailers. But, despite his efforts, officers were able to prove he was responsible for the fraud.”
There will now be a proceeds of crime hearing to follow the conviction looking to confiscate assets gained as a result of the crimes.
Illegal tobacco has a huge impact on the local community through introducing organised crime to the area and impacting local, honest retailers. This also costs the taxpayer £46 million per week with local shops losing on average £30,000 per annum. The longer term impact on consumers of using unregulated tobacco and the associated quality concerns cannot be quantified at this stage.
Peter Nelson, AIT Manager added:
“These investigations highlight the value of intelligence leads provided by our sales colleagues from retailers and the public;”
Thank you to all involved, in particular Wolverhampton Trading Standards who continue to adopt a consistent and resolute approach to illegal tobacco.
Remember if you Suspect it? Report it!