A South London shop keeper prosecuted for selling cigarettes from his modest grocer’s shop in Brixton has been jailed for eight months.
Ashok Kumar Thapar used his small, run down store in Brixton Station Road as a front for a fraudulent business selling fake and illegally imported cigarettes.
After a prolonged investigation by Lambeth Council Trading Standards officers, he was given an eight month jail term at The Inner London Crown Court on 18 February 2011 and ordered to pay £56,721 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Prosecutors estimated his total benefit from the operation as being in the region of £289,000.
Thapar sold on fake cigarettes smuggled in to the country, as well as illegally imported nonduty paid cigarettes. He then sold them on to customers at his shop Ashok Supermarket, in Brixton Station Road.
Trading Standards officers from Lambeth Council first visited the shop in September 2006 after a tip off from a member of the public, where they discovered fake and duty not paid cigarettes under the counter. The goods were seized and samples sent to the brand holders for examination.
Despite being issued with a clear warning about this earlier incident, Thapar kept up his illegal trade and when officers returned a few months later they seized more fake and duty not paid counterfeit cigarette packets on three separate occasions, leading them to seek a prosecution.
Cllr Lorna Campbell, Cabinet Member for Environment on Lambeth Council, said “This case sends a warning that we take this kind of criminal activity extremely seriously and we will always push for the strongest penalties.
“Not only was he fiddling the taxman by avoiding paying duty, he was duping his customers. Lambeth will do everything we can to disrupt the activities of those involved in illegal tobacco manufacture and supply, because there are no safeguards as counterfeit tobacco is unlicensed and unregulated.
“Lambeth Trading Standards officers do vital work day in day out to help keep the public safe.
“People who knowingly buy counterfeit tobacco, either from a shop or from people pedalling it in pubs or clubs, may think they are getting a bargain, but they should be aware it’s likely to have been prepared in unhygienic conditions and will almost certainly not be the brand it says it is on the packet. A lot of counterfeiting is also linked to serious organised crime that you could be helping to fund.”