A SHOP has been shut down as a result of suspected illegal tobacco sales.

There was a raid on Bucharest Mini Market, on Parliament Road, Middlesbrough, in February.

Officers found a quantity of illicit cigarettes and tobacco including 7,620 cigarettes and 250g of hand rolling tobacco in a van parked near the shop.

The operation was carried out by HM Revenue and Customs on February 10, backed by Middlesbrough Council Trading Standards.

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On Tuesday, April 12, an order was granted by Teesside magistrates to close the premises to prevent crime and disorder.

During February’s visit officers from HMRC attended the shop with a tobacco detection dog and handler.

A key to a silver van parked up on a street nearby was found behind the counter, and inside officers found a quantity of illicit cigarettes and tobacco including 7,620 cigarettes and 250g of hand rolling tobacco.

The Northern Echo:

The van been parked up for a number of months, and was seen to be accessed by a number of individuals from the shop.

The van did not have a valid MoT or registered keeper and was subsequently seized by Middlesbrough Council’s Neighbourhood Safety Team. No-one came forward to claim ownership and the vehicle has been disposed of.

Middlesbrough Council applied to Teesside Magistrates’ Court for a court order after serving a closure notice because it was suspected the products were counterfeit and did not comply with UK safety regulations.

The court accepted there was a likelihood of disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour at the store, and that its use was likely to result in serious nuisance to members of the public.

Judith Hedgley, Middlesbrough Council’s head of public protection, said: “The public protection service and its trading standards officers work closely with partner agencies including Cleveland Police and HMRC to tackle the illicit tobacco trade.

“The work of HMRC officers resulted in a significant quantity of illicit tobacco being seized and the council’s successful application for a closure order prohibiting anyone from entering the premises for up to three months to prevent it being used for further anti-social or criminal behaviour.

The Northern Echo:

“Anyone caught breaching the order could, if convicted, be subject to prison sentence, a fine, or both.”

Caroline Austin, assistant director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2.3 billion a year.

“This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.”

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Councillor David Coupe, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive member with responsibility for Public Protection, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco is dangerous and damaging, and there are clear links to organised crime.

“We’re making great strides in stamping out smoking, especially among young people, and they’re all too often the target and victims of this evil, unscrupulous trade.

“Operations like this send out a clear warning that there’s not hiding place for those who think they can make easy profits by putting other people’s lives at risk.”

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