A COVENTRY baker had his finger in another pie – stashing thousands of packs of pirate cigarettes and tobacco destined for sale to the public at his home.
And his role in the illegal trade almost cost Auyob Habib his legitimate business following a raid on his home by Coventry Trading Standards officers.
Habib had denied two charges of possessing packets of cigarettes and one of possessing packs of hand-rolling tobacco with false trademarks with a view to selling or distributing them.
Those charges related to 1,350 counterfeit packets of Mayfair cigarettes, 900 packets of Richmond cigarettes and 180 packs of fake Amber Leaf tobacco.
He also denied possessing for supply 3,607 packets of cigarettes and 475 pouches of tobacco which failed to comply with regulations by not carrying health warnings in English.
But on the day of his trial at Warwick Crown Court, Habib (35) of Elmsdale Avenue, Foleshill, Coventry, changes his pleas on all five charges to guilty.
He was given a nine month prison term suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work by Recorder Stuart Sprawson, who also ordered all the cigarettes and tobacco to be destroyed.
Prosecutor Amrisha Parathalingam said: “In January last year Coventry Trading Standards received intelligence that the defendant, the owner of a local bakery at Primrose Hill, had a large quantity of illegal tobacco stored at his home address.”
Trading Standards officers obtained a warrant to search Habib’s home, where on February 23, with the assistance of a tobacco detection dog, they found a large quantity of cigarettes in boxes and bags in a bedroom.
In a bag hanging in the wardrobe were packets of hand-rolling tobacco, while in Habib’s van they found a further three counterfeit packets of cigarettes.
In total there were 5,861 packets of cigarettes and 475 pouches of tobacco which, if they had all been genuine, would have had a retail value of around £56,000.
Of those, 2,250 packets of cigarettes were counterfeit, while the rest had health warnings which were not in English – and which could have been fakes or genuine but illegally imported.
When Habib was interviewed he claimed he had been storing the cigarettes and tobacco for a man called Osman who was a regular customer at his bakery, but denied he was being paid to do so or having any intent to supply them.
“He said he had only had them for a few days from the 20th of February. This was obviously at odds with the intelligence the Trading Standards officers had,” observed Miss Parathalingam.
Asked about the packs in his van, he said nearby shops would borrow it for deliveries, and that one of those people must have left them there.
Habib accepted he knew what was in the boxes – but when he first appeared in court he claimed he had not known, and that when he found out he had asked Osman to take them back.
Daniel Oscroft, defending, said: “The offence itself has limited mitigation.
“But he is a man of good character, and there is no suggestion he has used his business for the purpose of disguising a sideline in selling cigarettes.
“His business premises were searched, and there was no evidence of cigarettes there. This was a separate sideline.”
Mr Oscroft said Habib runs his shop with one employee who would not be able to keep it running if he was jailed – and he was terrified of the impact it would have on his wife and two young children if he was not able to support them.
“If he were to be sent away, he would lose his business and his home, and his wife and children would be left destitute,” he added.
Sentencing Habib, Recorder Stuart Sprawson told him: “The whole purpose behind the statutory provisions and regulations as regard to cigarettes is to maintain a minimum quality, as well as assisting those who hold trademarks to maintain standards, and to ensure that warnings on the packets are clear and understandable.
“I am told some of the cigarettes found may well have been properly manufactured, but your guilty pleas indicate you accept you breached the trademark laws.
“Those who breach trademarks can expect their cases to cross the custody threshold, and I am quite satisfied these offences, taken together, do cross the custody threshold.
“But because you did not engage in the actual trading of these cigarettes, and are of previous good character, I can suspend your sentence.”