by our RBG Correspondent In Woolwich
Hefty fines totalling over £7000 have been issued to a Plumstead shopkeeper for stocking thousands of unsafe cigarettes illegally smuggled into the country. The seized goods had been carefully concealed throughout the ‘Maistas & Gerimai’ convenience store at 33 Herbert Road to avoid detection.
At a Bexley Magistrates’ Court hearing on 21 July, the court heard how Mr Egidijus Razmirskis, the sole director of the company responsible for the shop, had gone to extraordinary lengths to hide over 6000 illegally imported Russian and Lithuanian cigarettes, even hiding products behind a display of UK legal cigarettes to throw off sniffer dogs.
The store first came to the attention of the Royal Borough of Greenwich in November 2015 when information led officers to believe that illegal tobacco was being sold there. Royal Borough of Greenwich Trading Standards and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers quickly swooped down on the address a few days later.
A sniffer dog detected two separate cigarette scents leading officers to uncover 68 large packs of illegal cigarettes along with 9 packets of rolling tobacco hidden behind legal UK cigarettes packets in a sliding cabinet draw. An even larger, illegal consignment of 275 cigarette packets and 10 packets of rolling tobacco was discovered in a doorway to the rear of the shop behind a locked panel. Another packet of legal rolling tobacco had been placed near the panel as a ‘decoy’ scent for sniffer dogs.
None of the cigarette or tobacco packets seized were labelled correctly for the British market. Samples of each brand sent for screen testing also showed a very poor performance in the self-extinguishing test with only 57% of the confiscated Lithuanian ‘Marlboro Gold’ cigarettes passing the test and none of the Russian ‘Winston Blue’ cigarettes successfully self-extinguishing in accordance with UK regulation.
Mr. Razmirskis was ordered by the Court to pay £7,100 in total for breaches of the Consumer Protection Act, the Licensing Act, The Tobacco (Manufacture, Presentation and Sale)(Safety) Regulations and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. His personal license was also revoked.
Cllr Jackie Smith (top right), Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Environment said: “Thousands of illegal and unsafe cigarettes have been removed from the market thanks to our joint operations with HMRC. We will continue to take swift and firm action against retailers who think they are above the law.”
Cllr David Gardner, Cabinet Member Health and Adult Social Care said: "There is an unequivocal link between the availability of cheap tobacco and higher smoking rates. Retailers smuggling such products into the country without paying the proper duties, or ensuring that these products are labelled appropriately, will always pay a high price for such criminality. "
The investigation into the illegal practices at ‘Maistas & Gerimai’ was part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich's on-going campaign against illicit tobacco sales. Since 2013, the Royal Borough has been working with five other south-east London boroughs to tackle the sale of illegal tobacco, after a survey of 1,700 smokers found that an estimated 114 million illegal cigarettes, with a street value of more than £22million, were sold annually in the region.
Anyone who suspects the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol can call the council’s trading standards team on 020 8921 8223 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or report it on the Keep It Out website at www.keep-it-out.co.uk.