Just two days after trading standards officers had raided his store, a Leamington shopkeeper who had been selling illegal cigarettes to children rented a self-storage unit in Coventry.
And when that unit was raided following a tip-off some months later, more than 8,000 packets of illicit cigarettes and 900 packets of tobacco were discovered.
Arsalan Abdulbakht pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to five charges of the unauthorised use of trademarks and two of possessing prohibited tobacco products for supply.
Abdulbakht, 28, of Buckley Road, Leamington, who was already subject to a community order for his earlier offences, was jailed for 12 months.
Amrisha Parathalingam, prosecuting on behalf of Coventry Trading Standards, said that in February the department had an anonymous tip-off about illegal cigarettes being delivered to the Safestore self-storage premises in Phoenix Way, Coventry.
As a result, Trading Standards officers, accompanied by police officers, went to the site and viewed CCTV footage which showed a white van pull up and a man unload boxes from it.
The boxes were then put into one of the storage units, so the officers broke the locks and discovered thousands of packets of cigarettes with false brand names on them.
They included Regal, Richmond, Embassy and Lambert & Butler, and there were also hundreds of counterfeit pouches of Golden Virginia tobacco.
In addition, there were more than 2,000 packets of cigarettes and 483 packets of tobacco which did not have one of the required health warnings on them.
The following month, further CCTV footage was viewed which revealed Abdulbakht visiting the unit, which it was found he had rented since May 13 last year.
That was just two days after his shop in Leamington had been raided by Warwickshire Trading Standards officers.
The raid on the International Mini Market in High Street, Leamington, had followed an under-age test purchase at the shop when a 15-year-old was sold a counterfeit packet of Marlboro Gold for £5 – about half the price of a genuine packet.
Miss Parathalingam said that during the raid, officers had found more fake packets of cigarettes in a cupboard under the counter and hidden in speakers on the window sill.
Abdulbakht denied being responsible for those cigarettes, but was finally convicted following a trial in May this year, and was given a community order with 150 hours of unpaid work.
And Recorder Antony Potter commented: “On one view it looks as though, having been rumbled in the shop, he then rents the storage unit in Coventry two days later.”
Miss Parathalingam said that when Abdulbakht was spoken to about the storage unit, he said he had rented it on behalf of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, and had only visited it three or four times, but was aware of the cigarettes being stored there.
He claimed he made a living buying and selling cars, and denied having anything to do with the shop in Leamington.
Devon Small, defending, said: “The background is that he had broken up with his partner in about May last year and moved out of their address, and all his belongings were placed in a storage unit.
“A friend approached him and asked if he could store some items for him. He knew they were illegal tobacco products, and he agreed to store them in return for that person paying the rent.”
But after hearing evidence from Abdulbakht, that account was rejected by Recorder Potter who said: “A shop he had links to was raided in May last year, and two days later he’s paying for the rental of a unit which is used for the storage of illegal tobacco. That strikes me as too much of a coincidence.”
Jailing Abdulbakht, he told him: “You knew on the 13th of May when you rented that unit that you were renting it for an illegal activity.
“Two days before that, a shop that magistrates were satisfied you had also rented had been raided by Warwickshire Trading Standards who had also recovered cigarettes with unauthorised trademarks on them.
“I conclude from that that you were quite prepared to continue your illegal activity.
“The courts are encouraged to pass deterrent sentences to deter people like you from becoming involved in illegal trade, and just such a sentence is necessary in this case.”