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Gloucestershire Business News

Family fined for selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco in Cheltenham store

The owner of a shop selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco in Cheltenham has died before he could be sentenced for the offences - but relatives who were also involved with the store - including his widow - were each fined for their roles in the illicit trade.

Gloucester Crown Court heard that undercover trading standards officers undertook a number of test purchases of cigarettes and tobacco at the Central Newsagents store in Cheltenham's High Street.

Prosecutor Alan Fuller said the late Mohammed Sedoo, 63, of Falkner st, Gloucester, who ran the store, faced 29 charges of selling counterfeit products, infringing registered trademarks and fraudulent evasion of duty.

Mr Sedoo had admitted the charges and was awaiting sentence after the trial of three other members of the family who denied involvement.

Mr Fuller said that the three relatives, who all live at the same address at Falkner Street in Gloucester, faced a total of 14 charges for their involvement in the illicit operation and had now admitted their guilt to some of the charges.

The prosecution withdrew the charges which the trio still denied.

Mr Fuller said: "The shop was selling the illegal products at about a third of the normal retail price compared with a legal product.

"Undercover trading standards officers made a number of test purchases during the Autumn of 2018. On various occasions Mr Sedoo sold them the counterfeit products.

"However, when Mr Sedoo was not about other members of the family stepped in to serve at the counter and sold the counterfeit items.

"As a result of these test purchases warrants were obtained to search the shop and the family's home.

"A quantity of illegal products was seized along with the shop's CCTV footage, which was examined by experts who confirmed that numerous purchases of the illicit under the counter products were made."

Sarah Jenkins, representing Sedoi's widow Maimuna Sedoo, 55, explained she was reluctant to get involved but was working at the shop when an undercover trading standards officer made a single test purchase on October 11, 2018, which she later pleaded guilty to.

Joe Maloney for Shabnam Sedoo, 29, the couple's daughter, said she also got roped into the family business.

He said: "Shabnam accepts her part in the operation and sold seven counterfeit cigarette packets from under the counter to an undercover trading standards officer.

"She is relieved that all this is being concluded as the family have struggled to keep their business going during the pandemic lockdown."

Steve Young, for Sedoo's son-in-law Yahya Muslim, 33, said that of all the other family members he had the most involvement in the shop at Cheltenham.

"Whilst he admits selling the counterfeit items, he didn't make any personal financial gain from his father-in-law's operation.

"He was working legitimately and occasionally sold the counterfeit tobacco items from under the counter when asked. He admits five offences of selling the illegal products.

The court was told that the Cheltenham shop has since been sold and that Mr Muslim is now out of a job.

All three advocates urged Judge Michael Cullum to impose a conditional discharge.

Before sentencing the three family members, Judge Cullum extended his condolences to them and said: "I appreciate that the family will have been struggling in these difficult times as well as dealing with the burden of his loss.

"Mr Sedoo had pleaded guilty to 29 charges, which formed the bulk of this investigation.

"These are serious offences committed in October 2018 and January 2019.

"Unregulated tobacco is dangerous. It is not properly marked, its content is not controlled and it is not sold in the controlled way that legislation dictates for the UK.

"You were all involved in the business of making illegal money, riding roughshod over the regulations. You all knew what was going on, even if you didn't agree with it.

"You will each pay £900 towards court costs with fines representing the number of counterfeit transactions that each of you made."

Maimuna Sedoo was fined £100; Shabnam Sedoo £200 and Yahya Muslim £500.

The judge ordered for the forfeiture and destruction of the illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

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