Published: 12:41, 04 March 2021
| Updated: 15:41, 04 March 2021
A hide containing several thousands untaxed cigarettes was found in the yard of a convenience store.
Police raided several shops over two days and seized 123,040 cigarettes and arrested eleven peopled during an operation targetting illicit tobacco sales in Chatham and Gillingham.
Police empty the hide found at Payless Convenience Store in Gillingham
The raids were carried out in partnership with HM Revenue and Customs, Medway Council, the Home Office and Kent Fire and Rescue Service on February 26 and 27.
As well as the cigarettes, 19.8kg of rolling tobacco were also found and nine men, aged between 19 and 42, and two teenage boys were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit tax evasion.
They have since been released pending further enquiries, which will be carried out jointly by Kent Police and HMRC.
During the operation police uncovered a hide containing several thousand untaxed cigarettes, which was found in the yard of Payless Convenience Store in Gillingham High Street.
The shop has since received a full closure order, following a successful application made by Kent Police officers at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court on Monday March 1.
The Kany Shop in Chatham High Street, and Supermart Xpress in Batchelor Street, Chatham, were also made the subject of temporary closures after several thousand cigarettes were reportedly seized from both premises.
In addition to the seizures, Kovan in Luton Road, Chatham, also received a temporary closure order due to previous incidents at the premises.
Inspector Steve Bassett, from Kent Police’s Medway Community Safety Unit, said: "The sale of illicit cigarettes is well-organised and undercuts legitimate, law-abiding businesses operating in the same area. It also attracts associated violence and antisocial behaviour.
"The results achieved from these particular warrants demonstrate the effective relationships we have with partner agencies in central and local government.
"We will continue to work with these agencies to ensure our combined powers are used to take the most robust action which, ultimately, will reduce crime and help to keep our communities safe."
Richard Mayer, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.9 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
"We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887."