A SHOP owner was caught selling smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes in an undercover sting by Trading Standards.

Hazhar Merahmad, the former owner of Matean Market in Cowley, has been fined more than £6,500 after pleading guilty to 10 offences concerning the supply of illegal tobacco.

He was convicted at Oxford Magistrates' Court yesterday, after Oxfordshire County Council's trading standards team visited the shop in Hollow Way.

The council said he admitted possessing smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes, and hand-rolling tobacco with an intent to supply.

The shop has since been taken under new ownership.

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Trading standards officers made a test purchase at the shop on December 17, 2017, of cigarettes called 'Fest,' priced at £4, which were retrieved from under the counter.    



On February 25, 2018, another test purchase was made - this time another packet of Fest for £4, along with a sleeve containing 200 L & M cigarettes, which were sold for £40.

On May 20 that year, an undercover officer bought another sleeve of 200 L & M cigarettes, and was charged £35.

Fest and L & M cigarettes have no legal market in the UK. 

Merahmad, 34, of Norris Close in Abingdon, claimed that the tobacco had been sold from September 2015 on an ad-hoc basis when individuals approached the shop offering them for sale.

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According to the county council, he represented himself in defence and told the court: "I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. I’m here to pay the price."

The council said chair of the bench, JP Cantrell, described the operation as 'sophisticated and planned over a long period of time.'

Merahmad was made to pay £6,566.75 in fine and costs. 

Judith Heathcoat, the council’s cabinet member for community safety, said: "Criminals dealing in illegal tobacco provide a cheap source of supply that can easily end up in the hands of young people whose developing lungs are particularly sensitive to the harm tobacco causes.

"It also encourages adults to carry on smoking when giving up would dramatically improve their health and wealth."

Retailers selling illegal tobacco could lose their alcohol licence, face unlimited fines and be jailed for up to 10 years. 

Shop staff involved in the sale can also face unlimited fines and imprisonment.

Matean Market continues to trade at Hollow Way under new ownership. 

Anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco can contact 0300 999 6 999 or report it anonymously via the website www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk.