Banbury couple admit illegal Facebook cigarette sales
The net is closing in on criminals who sell illegal tobacco using social media sites, such as Facebook, Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards team has warned.
The warning follows the prosecution of a Banbury husband and wife at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Friday 3 November after a raid at their home address by the council’s trading standards team and Thames Valley Police.
The raid led to the seizure of over 44,000 illicit cigarettes and 24.5 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco, which at that time was the largest ever made by the local authority and had a street value of £20,000.
Krzysztof Bugno, 42, and Ewelina Bugno, 41, of Mold Crescent, Banbury, each entered guilty pleas to eight charges including being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of duty.
The court heard that on 31 August 2021, an undercover operative bought 10 packets of L & M cigarettes for £60 after responding to an advert posted by an account in a pseudonym on Facebook. The operative was directed to the Bugno’s home address where Ewelina was recorded on covert camera making the sale.
A follow-up took place on 5 October 2021, when 10 more packets were purchased, this time from Krzysztof Bugno, resulting in a warrant to enter the property being executed on 8 October and illicit loot discovered contained within the lounge, master bedroom and loft.
Mobile phones were seized from each suspect with experts at the National Trading Standards E-crime Unit called in to gain access to Mr Bugno’s phone, which revealed substantial evidence of illegal trading between June 2019 and October 2021.
The prosecution alleged that at least £40,000 in duty was evaded during this period.
Matters were adjourned to the Crown Court for sentencing on 30 November.
Councillor Dr Nathan Ley, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Inequalities and Community Safety, said: “Oxfordshire’s trading standards team, working in partnership with Thames Valley Police and other agencies will continue to crack down on the sale of these illegal products. People can help us to stamp out illegal tobacco and create a healthier and safer Oxfordshire by being vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity using the illegal tobacco hotline.”
Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Head of Trading Standards, added: “We are serious about taking action whenever we find anyone selling illegal tobacco. Its sale not only avoids taxation, which means less money for schools, the NHS and local communities, it also undermines legitimate businesses in Oxfordshire and puts money into the hands of criminals.”
Tobacco fraud is reported to cost the UK around £2 billion a year while treating smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS a similar amount annually.
Anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco should contact 0300 999 6 999 or report it anonymously online at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk.
We know it can be hard to stop using tobacco products but help is available. People are three times more likely to successfully quit by using a stop smoking service like Stop for Life Oxfordshire. The service is free to everyone living in the county.
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