Banbury shop owner guilty after fake cigarettes seized

A Banbury shop owner has been ordered to pay back £75,000 following a raid where counterfeit cigarettes were seized.  

Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards team brought a prosecution of Narinder Singh Malhotra, the director of Banbury Express Food and Wine Limited, which trades from 179 Warwick Road, Banbury. The case was heard at Oxford Crown Court on Thursday.

It came after trading standards swooped on the shop in June 2019, seizing nearly 3,000 illegal cigarettes following two earlier test purchases when Ukrainian Marlboro Gold cigarettes were sold for £6.50 a packet to undercover officers.

The cigarettes seized were found behind the counter hidden in an empty box of Snickers chocolate bars and in the storeroom at the rear of the shop.

Appearing before Judge Maria Lamb; Malhotra and the company pleaded guilty to 13 offences each. These included supplying cigarettes that were not labelled with the required picture or text warnings and possessing counterfeit Marlboro Red cigarettes with a view to selling them. It was the possession of the fake cigarettes that triggered proceeds of crime proceedings.

Malhotra and the company were both sentenced to fines of £2,450 each and ordered to pay £75,000 within three months or face a custodial sentence of 12 months in default. He must also pay £6,220.70 in prosecution costs. All the seized cigarettes were ordered to be forfeited and destroyed.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “Our 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, said: “This sends a clear message that selling illegal cigarettes will not be tolerated in Oxfordshire and we will use the Proceeds of Crime Act to make sure this crime does not pay.”

Tobacco fraud is reported to cost the UK around £2 billion a year while treating smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS over £2 billion annually.

Following the seizure, Banbury Express was subject to a review of its licence in October 2019, which was brought by the County Council’s trading standards team and backed by its public health team, Cherwell District Council licensing and Thames Valley Police. Following a hearing, the review resulted in the shop’s licence to sell alcohol being suspended for 12 weeks.

The premises licence holder appealed this decision, and this was due to be heard at Oxford Magistrates’ Court in April. However on Thursday, Malhotra’s counsel informed the court that the licensing appeal was to be abandoned.

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