Hull shopkeeper hid 17,000 smuggled cigarettes
A SHOPKEEPER has been fined after police found 17,000 smuggled cigarettes in a hidden room at his store.
Officers found the contraband cigarettes in the secret room at the back of B&K Kubus Mini Market in Spring Bank, west Hull.
The entrance to the room, which was separated from the store room by a false wall, was hidden behind a bookshelf.
PC Gordon Underwood, licensing officer for Humberside Police, said: "The bookshelf was really tight to the wall and, when we moved it, there was a small doorway leading to a hidden room.
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"Inside, we found black bin bags filled with sleeves of cigarettes."
The owner and manager of the store, Iranian-born Hussain Aghabaigi, has now been fined £800 after admitting keeping smuggled goods on licensed premises.
Police officers searched the store with officers from the city council's trading standards department and HM Revenue and Customs in July. As well as the cigarettes, cases of smuggled Italian wine were found.
Aghabaigi had been found with smuggled cigarettes concealed inside his cargo-style trousers during a previous inspection in May.
It is believed the cigarettes were being sold for between £2 and £4 for a packet of 20. PC Underwood said: "People involved in this type of activity often go to some lengths to hide the products and the methods they use can be quite advanced in the way they go about their business.
"These cigarettes can often have different nicotine and tar levels to those sold legitimately, so as well as no tax being paid on them, they can also put a burden on NHS services."
After the raid on the shop, Humberside Police applied to Hull City Council's licensing committee for the shop's alcohol licence to be reviewed.
It was revoked by the panel. Aghabaigi has also had his personal licence suspended for four months so is unable to sell alcohol.
PC Underwood said: "This was a really good result, but we can't take our foot off the gas. We know there are other people in the city doing this and we will continue to investigate them and take action."
The cigarettes and alcohol will now be destroyed.
City councillor John Hewitt, portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and communities, said: "Contraband costs everyone and there are no gains from it.
"We will use all the powers at our disposal to deal with those who break the law and cheat the system, to protect both the public and businesses that seek to make an honest living.
"We are committed to working with our partners and taking the necessary enforcement action."
A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said: "We are keen to work closely with Humberside Police and Trading Standards in the fight against this kind of crime.
"Selling illicit alcohol and cigarettes harms our communities by making them more easily available to young people and taking valuable income away from honest shop keepers."
Aghabaigi was also ordered to pay £150 in court costs and a £15 victims' surcharge after he appeared at Hull Magistrates' Court this week.