'Savvy' convenience store owner locked up after illegal tobacco repeatedly seized from shop in Sheffield

Tobacco seized during a raid in 2014 (Sheffield Council)
Tobacco seized during a raid in 2014 (Sheffield Council)
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A 'savvy' convenience store owner has been jailed for three years after illegal cigarettes were repeatedly seized from his shop in Sheffield.

Karim Heabah, who runs Baghdad Mini Market in Page Hall, was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court after he admitted fraudulently evading duty on tobacco on tobacco products.

The 27-year-old had been convicted twice before for similar offences.

In 2014, he was fined for selling illicit tobacco without the correct UK health warning, after Trading Standards officers seized 8,100 cigarettes, nearly 20kg of hand-rolling tobacco and other items.

He was hauled before the courts again the following year, when he was given a 10-week suspended prison sentence and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work, after 37,340 cigarettes and more than 50kg of tobacco were seized on that occasion.

But he failed to learn his lesson, and in January last year, Sheffield Council and HMRC carried out another seizure, before investigators intercepted numerous packages containing illicit tobacco.

Prosecutors alleged all 60 packages sent to him contained illicit tobacco, but Heabah only admitted to 10 containing illegal tobacco products which had been smuggled into the country from the Netherlands.

While he awaited the court hearing, Trading Standards officers seized a further 9,440 cigarettes and 3kg of hand-rolling tobacco in November last year and made yet another seizure just days before he was sentenced this month.

Sentencing Heabah, Judge Thomas QC, described him as a 'savvy young man'.

"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," he told him.

Sheffield Council said five children are estimated to take up smoking every day in the city and the availability of cheap and illicit tobacco undermined efforts to reduce the number of people lighting up.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, the council's 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."

Anyone with information about illicit tobacco can call the HMRC's Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.