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Gloucestershire Business News

Gloucester shopkeeper remanded ahead of sentencing over fears he could flee to Iraq

An Iraqi man has been found guilty by a jury of being part of an illegal tobacco and cigarette trading operation in a Gloucester shop.

Salim Osman, 30, of Holyhead Road, Birmingham, was involved in an illicit contraband scheme operating out of the Divan Mini Market in Barton Street and from a flat in Falkner Street, Gloucester Crown Court was told.

After a four day trial a jury of three men and nine women took just an hour-and-a-half today to convict Osman of possessing 1,307 fake Mayfair and Richmond branded cigarettes and 2,178 pouches of imported Golden Virgina and Cutters Choice rolling tobacco that were not intended for the UK market.

The jury also found Osman guilty of the fraudulent evasion of the relevant duty and tax and of breaching trademark copyrights and UK Government health warnings.

The court was told that Osman had been convicted of a similar offence in 2016 when he owned the Costless convenience store in Eastgate Street, Gloucester.

Prosecutor Alan Fuller summed up the case, which was brought by Gloucestershire Trading Standards, by saying: "We believe Osman was hiding behind others operating the illicit trade because if he was caught he would be at risk of activating his suspended sentence for a similar offence."

The court heard how Trading Standards officers kept watch on a number of flats in the city that were believed to be running a counterfeit cigarette and tobacco operation.

Prior to executing a search warrant at an address in Falkner Street on November 28, 2017 officers carried out surveillance on the property which had been converted into flats.

Officer Robert Cardew explained that the comings and goings at the flats were captured by a surveillance vehicle.

Mr Cardew said: "Osman was identified as making five journeys from the flat to a waiting car carrying boxes. In another instance he had a large supermarket carrier bag which he strapped over the handlebars of a bike.

"We believe that these boxes contained counterfeit cigarette and tobacco products."

Trading Standards officials and the police then executed a search warrant on the flat in Falkner Street, and discovered Osman in the lounge and another man in the bedroom.

Hidden in a footstool and a sofa, officers found hundreds of illicit cigarette packets and rolling tobacco pouches along with documents belonging to Osman and £13,000 stashed in his rucksack and an additional £2,125 elsewhere in the property.

However Osman claimed he didn't live at the flat and that he knew nothing about the illegal cigarettes and tobacco. He claimed the money was given to him from a relative in Iraq.

Jason Coulter, defending said: "The evidence doesn't directly point towards Osman being part of trading in illicit tobacco and cigarettes.

"There is nothing to link Osman to the retail outlet other than the proximity of the contraband goods concealed in the flat in Gloucester where he was staying overnight."

Judge Michael Cullham told the jury that he could not sentence Osman today because his co-defendants Hawkar Muhammed of Watling Street Road, Preston and Ahmed Ebrahim of Falkner Street, Gloucester, who had already admitted the offences, were not in court.

He said: "All three will be sentenced together within the next six weeks.

"We heard in his own evidence that if Osman were to be found guilty, he would not appear in court. His family are in Iraq and I have great concern that having been convicted he is likely to fail to surrender to this court. "

Mr Coulter pointed out: "Osman's British passport has already been surrendered to the relevant authorities and the likelihood of him skipping the country is virtually nil."

The judge told Osman: "You are in breach of a suspended sentence, and combined with this guilty verdict you will almost certainly be sentenced to a period in custody.

"Even though you have a number of addresses where you could reside, I have decided to remand you into custody.

The judge ordered a pre-sentence report to be prepared on Osman.

After the verdict Gloucester County Councillor Dave Norman, cabinet member for Trading Standards said: "The continuing sale of illegal tobacco is damaging to legitimate businesses who are unable to compete with criminals who sell the product for around a third of the price they have to charge.

"Availability of illegal tobacco at one third of retail price undermines any work encouraging people to quit smoking; and there is no duty paid by the sellers."

Karen Smith head of Trading Standards in Gloucestershire said: "Counterfeit operations like this one is a big problem across the county, especially in Cheltenham and in Gloucester, especially in the Barton Street and Eastgate Street areas of the city."

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