08:00 Monday 12 November 2012

Store still selling illegal cigarettes

Written byHELEN KREFT

A SHOP has been caught selling illegal cigarettes for the second time in a matter of months during an undercover investigation by the Mail.

Ezee Shop, in Horninglow Road North
Ezee Shop, in Horninglow Road North

Our reporter visited Ezee Shop, in Horninglow Road North, Burton, and bought illegal cigarettes called ‘Jin Ling’.

The brand was requested during a visit to the shop on Thursday.

After replying that he did not sell the brand, the cashier was asked if he knew of another shop which sold them.

It was then that he said he knew someone who may supply the cigarettes and asked our reporter to return later at about 2pm.

The cashier asked who the fags were for and was told they were required by a friend who was unable to leave home due to his disability.

Our reporter then agreed to return to the shop between 2pm and 5pm.

Bizarrely, the cashier then asked her to ‘hang on a minute’ and disappeared into a room at the back before returning with packs of 200 Jin Ling cigarettes.

He asked how many were required and was told £10 worth.

The cashier then handed over three packs of 20 priced at £3 each, saying he had to be careful as he did not know our reporter.

It is the second time the shop has been caught out as it was revealed only last month the premises had been raided by Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards team in a joint operation with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Staffordshire Police.

Fake and smuggled tobacco with an estimated retail value of £6,000 was seized.

The tobacco included 12,000 cigarettes and 6.5kg of hand rolling tobacco.

It is estimated there would have been a revenue loss of £5,000 if the goods had been sold.

The results of the Mail probe have been passed to HMRC.

Undercover operation exposes fake tobacco

THE Mail has informed both HM Revenue and Customs and Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards of its investigation.

Both organisations say the sale of illegal cigarettes is having a ‘devastating effect’, not only on retailers selling only genuine cigarettes, but also the community which is losing £2 billion a year from the taxpayers’ purse.

HM Revenue and Customs also revealed to the Mail that the Ezee Shop had recently applied for a license to sell alcohol but was refused on the basis of its ‘criminal activity’ in selling illegal cigarettes.

A Midlands spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said: “Jin Ling is known as cheap whites. They are totally bogus cigarettes.

There is no Jin Ling brand in the world, for example, some illegal brands may be legal to market in other countries but these are made purely for smuggling.

“They are not the bargain that people may perceive them to be because they aren’t legal cigarettes. There is no control in how they are manufactured. There are often environmental issues such as the health and safety of the workforce, it is part of organised crime.

“Eighty per cent of illegal cigarettes are produced in China and made for about 9p for a pack of 20 so the profits are going to organised criminal gangs.” Jin Ling is manufactured in Russia — part of Eastern Europe — which makes up the remaining 20 per cent.

The spokesman continued: “Shops selling these products may be at the lower rung of the crime ladder but they are not providing the public with a service. People are being duped into believing they are buying a genuine product. The public need to be aware of this and we want to encourage them to buy only legitimate cigarettes.

“This also has a devastating affect on genuine retailers who are having to compete with the black market against these economic times.

“It also has a negative impact on the local community.

“We work closely with local police forces, including trading standards constantly and we pledge to continue that work to disrupt, seize and look at potential prosecutions for those breaking the law.”

This is the second time the Ezee Shop has been caught in the act — which is not unusual across the country.

The spokesman said: “Clearly there are some people who do a one-off. They get caught and realise that (what they were doing) was wrong but there can be repeat offenders and we will take firm action against these, in way of fines and maybe prison sentences.

“Tobacco smuggling costs the taxpayer £2 billion a year and this money could be spent on additional law enforcement officers, care homes and hospitals.”

If anyone is aware or believe that criminal activity is taking place, with regards to illegal cigarettes, they are urged to called the HM Revenue and Customs hotline on 0800 595000, anonymously if they wish.

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