Wakefield store selling counterfeit cigarettes was 'criminal enterprise', West Yorkshire Police says

A convenience store was run as a "criminal enterprise" as it sold counterfeit cigarettes over several months, a public hearing's been told.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 5:36 pm
The store is located on Dewsbury Road.

Lupset Convenience Store, on Dewsbury Road, has been stripped of its alcohol licence after its owner admitted wrongdoing.

Undercover officers were sold illicit tobacco on six separate occasions from March this year, including on Tuesday morning, just two hours before the shop's boss was due to face punishment for the other illegal sales.

Owner Chovan Shabab Mohamad blamed Tuesday's incident on a "rogue" employee, but accepted blame for selling cut-price duty-free tobacco over a prolonged period.

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The sale of counterfeit cigarettes, which are typically bought for half the the price of regulation tobacco products, costs the taxpayer millions every year.

Police officers showed the hearing CCTV footage seized from the premises, which showed customers being ushered towards the end of the shop counter, out of view of the cameras.

On each occasion they were seen leaving with packets of what police said was illicit tobacco, while staff members were seen returning into view of the cameras and depositing cash in the till.

The authorities later found £520 in cash at the premises that they claimed had come from illegal sales across a single day.

Mr Mohamad's solicitor told the hearing, however, that that money came from customers topping up their electric and gas meters in store.

Mr Mohamad's solicitor said his client had run the store "extremely immaturely".

PC Jon Kaye told the hearing: "There can be no legitimate explanation for what this investigation has uncovered.

"All the evidence points to the fact the shop is a criminal enterprise."

Mr Mohamad, who lives in Leeds, had been given a written warning by the authorities in April for breaching several other rules, including having no incident logbook and untrained staff.

The hearing was told that 141 cans of high-strength alcohol were also found at the premises, which Mr Mohamad was banned from selling.

Council licensing officer Paul Dean said that when they were found, Mr Mohamad told him they were for his "own personal use".

Mr Dean said: "He swore blind he wasn't selling them.

"Anyone with common sense wouldn't really believe that."

Mr Mohammad's solicitor, Akef Akbar, said his client had run the store "extremely immaturely".

He said the shop's financial troubles, which had been worsened by Covid, had caused him stress and sleepless nights and that he'd turned to counterfeit cigarette sales to help keep the business afloat.

Mr Akbar said: "He didn't fully appreciate what he was selling.

"He didn't want to put the public in any danger. He was trying to make a quick buck and keep his business running.

"He's a young businessman who's taken a stupid course of action, but he is remorseful."

Mr Mohamad claimed he'd ceased selling the cigarettes "three to four weeks ago" and that he'd had not been present at the store on Tuesday morning when the latest test purchase had been carried out.

He said he didn't know where the staff member involved would have got the cigarettes from.

In their ruling, a panel of three councillors said the "continued alleged criminal activity" in the face of repeated warnings was of "great concern".

They decided to revoke the shop's premises licence.

Local Democracy Reporting Service