22 December 2017
A man has been sentenced to three years in prison for a number of offences connected with the sale of fake cigarettes and tobacco.
Karim Heabah, 27, the owner of Baghdad Mini Market in Page Hall, pleaded guilty to the charge of fraudulent evasion of duty of tobacco products at Sheffield Crown Court.
Mr Heabah was given a custodial sentence because he has been convicted on a number of occasions by Trading Standards, since 2013, of selling illegal and counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco products.
While awaiting the court hearing date a further seizure of 9,440 cigarettes and 3kg of hand rolling tobacco was made in November 2016 by Trading Standards.
HMRC also seized smuggled tobacco just days before the hearing last week, proving that Baghdad was still supplying these products.
Judge Thomas QC described Heabah as a “savvy young man” and told him in court: “You have decided that if you are dishonest you can make a better living. You make money by undermining the economy and welfare state, by lining your own pocket and not contributing.”
The case against him followed a seizure by Sheffield City Council Trading Officers and HMRC in January 2016. After that visit a number of packages containing tobacco were intercepted by investigators.
The prosecution alleged that all 60 packages that were sent to him contained illicit tobacco but Mr Heabah has only admitted to ten as being tobacco products that were being smuggled into this country from Holland, via a courier.
Mr Heabah’s first conviction was in 2014 when Trading Standards seized 8,100 cigarettes, just under 20kg hand rolling tobacco, 16kg waterpipe tobacco and other niche tobacco products. He received a fine and was ordered to pay costs for selling illicit tobacco that did not have the correct UK health warning.
In 2015 he was convicted again following a further seizure of 37,340 cigarettes, 16.5kg hand rolling tobacco, 36kg Waterpipe tobacco and more niche tobacco products from his Baghdad store. Heabah gave a guilty plea and was made the subject of a ten-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. Additionally he was ordered to complete 100hr unpaid work and contribute to costs.
Judge Thomas passed a total sentence of 1,025 days for the offences relating to fraud over a considerable period of time. He added to this a further 70 days which was the ten week suspended sentence awarded previously, making a total of three years.
Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for Environment said: “I am pleased to see the judge has handed down a severe sentence to a man who has continuously broken the law.
“Buying cigarettes from the black market not only costs the country money in lost tax but encourages young people and those on lower incomes to smoke.
“Illegal tobacco products are considerably cheaper and sometimes sold in singles and we must do all we can to stop this trade, for the health of our economy and its population.
“I hope this case will be a deterrent to anyone who thinks it is acceptable to buy and sell illegal cigarettes. If anyone is considering it as a career option they have been warned that our Trading Standards team and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise officers will pursue them relentlessly until they stop offending.”
It is estimated that five children start smoking every day in Sheffield. Greg Fell, Director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council said: “The availability of cheap and illicit tobacco undermines the effectiveness of efforts to reduce smoking with measures, such as raising the age of sale to 18 and picture health warnings on packaging.
“A key part of our plan to reduce tobacco addiction is to stop the sale and availability and supply of cheap and illicit tobacco, make taxation more effective and use enforcement and surveillance to protect communities from harm.”
Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
“I encourage anyone with information on illicit tobacco to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”