Shopkeeper sentenced over illegal tobacco haul

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A shopkeeper who dodged tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of tax by stashing black market cigarettes has been ordered to carry out unpaid work.

Farhad Babaker, 47, was found with more than 133,000 foreign cigarettes in a self-storage unit – as well as 2.5kg of tobacco.

Customs and Excise officers caught the Kurdish businessman, who lives in Royston Mains Crescent in Edinburgh, unloading boxes from the unit in Bolton in June last year, before following him to a mini market in Halliwell Road in the Greater Manchester town.

The next day, Babaker, previously of Cavendish Gardens, Bolton, was arrested outside a shop, where he was found to have £1130 in his jacket pocket as well as five packets of cigarettes and 50g of tobacco – all of which was seized by officers.

He pleaded guilty to excise duty evasion at Bolton Crown Court on May 26.

Experts said the total amount of UK excise duty dodged on the cigarettes was valued at £31,939.70.

In evidence to the court, HMRC revealed that other illegal tobacco products had been seized at Babaker’s shop in Halliwell Road and premises he was connected to at Cavendish Gardens in the past.

In February, the businessman was fined £10,000 after his business, Roman Mini Market, was raided by Bolton Council Trading Standards. During the raid, a sniffer dog unearthed more than 3500 cigarettes sold without health warnings that were concealed within the shop’s counter.

A shelf inside a hidden compartment housed dozens of packets of 20 cigarettes – including major brands such as Marlboro, Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia – alongside 1.5kg of loose tobacco.

Last week, Babaker was issued with a 100-hour community work order and £600 court costs, and now faces a full proceeds of crime assessment to recover the stolen tax.

Tobacco smuggling is one of HMRC’s highest tax compliance risks, costing the UK £2.1 billion in lost duty and taxes.

In 2013, HMRC prosecuted 328 people in relation to it, preventing £518.3 million of revenue losses and seizing more than 1.4bn cigarettes and 330 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco.

Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: “HMRC will not hesitate to investigate those who try to profit from defrauding honest taxpayers, and businesses by providing an unregulated supply of smuggled tobacco. Anyone with information about illicit tobacco, cigarettes or alcohol should contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”