A licensing sub-committee in Sandwell council reviewed an application for licence renewal at Top Tak, in Cape Hill, bordering Birmingham, after an application was made by Trading Standards at Sandwell Council in May.
The premises licence holder is Mrs Azar Ebrahimi. Ms Nastaran Khanoie is the designated premises supervisor. Both have held their respective licences since January 2017.
The licensing sub-committee heard on Monday that trading standards conducted an inspection in August 2021 on the grounds of suspicious activity related to counterfeit wines. It is an offence under Section 144 of the Licensing Act 2003 to keep any goods on licensed premises that have been imported without payment of duty.
Trading standards officers not only discovered five bottles of counterfeit Yellow Tail wine on sale, but also discovered 31 pouches of counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco. They also discovered five pouches of non-duty paid hand tobacco.
To the officers’ amazement, out of 7,160 cigarettes found on the premise, 2,460, or around 34 per cent, were discovered to be counterfeit. The majority of the counterfeit cigarettes were found hidden underneath the counter and on sale in the tobacco gantry behind the counter.
The sub-committee heard during the inspection numerous customers came into the store “asking for cheap cigarettes or tobacco”. They were turned away by a member of staff.
Jaswinder Singh Matoo, trading standards officer at Sandwell council, said: “The sale of illicit/counterfeit tobacco products has a serious impact on the economy. Legitimate traders cannot compete with the small minority of dishonest traders who operate within the black market.
“These dishonest traders are making large profits by selling cheap and potentially dangerous counterfeit products without any regards to public safety and tax avoidance..
“National intelligence suggests that trade in illegal tobacco is often linked to more serious crime such as terrorism, human trafficking, prostitution, and the sale of drugs. The trade in illegal tobacco is believed to be accepted as a low risk method of generating income to fund more serious criminality.”
Mary Bailey, addictive behaviours programme manager for Sandwell Council’s public health team, made a representation at the meeting. She argued a review was needed to protect residents from crime and disorder.
In a statement, she said: “Illicit cigarettes often contain poor quality ingredients and some very dangerous ingredients that are not found in genuine products. They contain higher levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than cigarettes that are legally sold in the UK.
“Although the illicit tobacco market in the UK is complex and fast-changing, many cases that come to the courts are linked to other activities such as drug dealing, alcohol and even people trafficking. Illicit tobacco has also been linked to organised crime and even the funding of terrorism. In this way illicit tobacco sales bring criminal activity right onto people’s streets and doorsteps.”
Councillor Laura Rollins, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for licensing, said: “We will not tolerate businesses that operate illegally by having counterfeit items or goods where the correct duty has not been paid. This type of behaviour not only undercuts Sandwell’s honest, hard-working shop owners but can even put the public in danger as the quality and contents of these goods can not be guaranteed.
“I would like to thank our trading standards team for their efforts in tackling this illegal trade.”