Published: 00:01, 29 January 2019
| Updated: 08:06, 29 January 2019
A rogue shopkeeper who was repeatedly caught selling counterfeit cigarettes has avoided a jail term.
Ali Anwari could have faced a maximum 10-year sentence, but he walked free with six months suspended for two years and 240 hours unpaid work.
Maidstone Crown Court heard trading standards officers went to East Hill Grocers in Dartford with a dog trained to sniff out tobacco in April 2017.
The dog indicated the presence of tobacco in shelving behind legitimate cigarettes being sold in the shop.
Prosecutor Matthew Pardoe said there were 173 packs of various brands of cigarettes and 1.35 kilos of hand rolling tobacco, all counterfeit.
Officers returned to the store on May 31 and made a “test purchase” of Marlborough and Gold cigarettes which had a health warning on them in Polish.
Mr Pardoe said they cost about half as much as would normally be expected.
“I accept this was not a sophisticated operation and you were not linked to a wider operation of distribution.” - Judge Martin Huseyin
The officers went back again on June 9 and found more of the cigarettes in a cupboard under the counter.
The total number of cigarettes seized was 640 packs, along with half a kilo of tobacco. Richmond and Mayfair cigarettes were found to be counterfeit.
When interviewed in July 2017, Anwari, 41, claimed he had been in Iraq at the time and was not responsible. He accused shop staff of acting behind his back.
But he admitted four offences of possessing goods with a false trade mark and three of possessing tobacco products without the correct health warning.
“He was warned in April and was still doing it in May and June,” said Mr Pardoe.
Anwari, who lives over the shop in East Hill, had committed similar offences at a store he owned in Worthing, East Sussex, in 2015. He was fined £3,300.
Leila Chaker, defending, said Anwari spent most of his time in Iraq where he had a “wife” under an Islamic marriage, but was not legally married.
He was now a British citizen and had been issued with a UK passport. He also had shops in Hastings and Iraq.
“He tells me he is checking stock carefully now,” added Miss Chaker.
Passing sentence, Judge Martin Huseyin told Anwari, who was assisted by a Kurdish interpreter: “It seems to me there was a degree of persistence in what you were doing in your shop because it took place over several months.
“I accept this was not a sophisticated operation and you were not linked to a wider operation of distribution.”
The judge said he had to take into that imprisonment could result in shop staff losing their jobs.
A proceeds of crime hearing will be held on June 7 to determine Anwari’s benefit from the offences.
Head of Trading Standards Steve Rock said after the case: “We take the sale of illegal cigarettes and tobacco very seriously.
“We hope this latest successful prosecution will act as a warning to other traders selling counterfeit goods in our county. We will do everything in our power to protect the safety and rights of the residents of Kent.”