Illicit tobacco stash linked to Preston deli leads to financial penalties of more than £5,000

A Polish-style delicatessen has found itself more than £5,000 out of pocket over the sale and possession of illegal smuggled and counterfeit tobacco products.

Maya Delikatessy Ltd, which operates from a shop on New Hall Lane in Preston, was prosecuted by Lancashire Trading Standards for eight offences after test purchases were carried out at the store between January 2018 and March 2019.

On one occasion, undercover officers witnessed a man leave the store and attempt to unlock a car, which was later found to contain a stash of 451 illicit packs.

It is understood in January 2018 officers carried out the first test purchase, using a Polish-speaking volunteer who asked the female shop keeper for “cheap cigarettes”.

Preston Magistrates' Court

Preston Magistrates’ Court was told she asked a young Asian man to fetch the cigarettes, for which the volunteer paid £3.50.

Prosecuting, Nick McNamara said a similar incident happened three days later, when the man was seen heading towards Maitland Street before returning to hand over the cigarettes.

The man attempted to run away before being apprehended and officers later found a silver Volvo which had a haul of packets inside.

It is believed the man had disposed of the car keys as he ran away.

He was accompanied back to the shop where the second man, Bakr Mohammad denied knowing him - despite his phone containing pictures of him inside the shop.

Even after this inspection, the illegal sales continued in April and June 2018, and in January and March 2019.

On most occasions, two members of staff were involved in sales – one going to retrieve packs while the other waited by the till – and the money was seen to go straight into the till.

Since May 2017 retailers are only permitted to supply tobacco products in non-branded, standardised packaging.

A trial against the shop took place in Mohammad’s absence and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The bench ordered the shop to pay a fine of £2,640, along with a £170 victim surcharge and costs of £1,955.

The law aims to make smoking less attractive - but as illicit packets tend to be sold at around half the price of legitimate packets this makes the habit more accessible, and difficult for law abiding retailers to compete with rogue shops.