'Mission Impossible' style contraption swung away from wall to reveal contraband in Chorley shop

An arrogant shopkeeper swore at Lancashire Trading Standards officers when they rumbled a specially converted hidden compartment full of counterfeit tobacco products.

Thursday, 12th July 2018, 3:01 pm
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 5:11 pm
The device opened to revealed a hidden compartment

Preston Magistrates' Court heard stunned investigators found a powerful electromagnetic system which would allow kitchen units in the storeroom of the Ezee Shop on Chapel Street, Chorley, to swing away from the wall, exposing a hidden cavity stuffed with packs of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

Kawa Abdullah Tophiek, 28, of Hollinshead Street, Chorley, is one of the first people in the country to be convicted under recent standardised tobacco packaging laws.

Tophiek, who called the officers "b*****ds" when they seized his mobile phone during the raid, has since admitted eight offences connected with the sale of illicit tobacco products and has been ordered to do 160 hours unpaid work and pay £1,488.42 costs.

The device opened to revealed a hidden compartment

Prosecuting, Nick McNamara said: " The Ezee Shop is a premise well known to trading standards officers in connection with the sale of counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and tobacco.

"As a result the shop receives special attention from officers who keep a close eye on the premises and regularly carry out test purchase activities there."

The court heard three test purchases were carried out on May 3, May 11, and May 24 in which a packet of counterfeit cigarettes was sold for £3.50 - less than half the cost of a genuine, tax paid article.

Mr McNamara added: " A full inspection took place immediately afterwards. On entry to the shop the man who had made the sale, the defendant, Kawa Tophiek, was informed what had just happened and was asked if there were any other illicit packs in the shop, which he denied, saying that was his last one.

The device from the outside

"He was asked if he was the owner of the store, which he also denied, telling officers that the owner was a man called 'Hawras', about whom he could provide no further details.

"Officers are well used to attempts to conceal illicit tobacco products in retail premises and their experience led them to take a closer look at some wall-mounted kitchen-type units in the store room.

"When officers tackled Tophiek about the secret compartment he claimed innocence, despite the compartment being just a couple of paces away from the counter. But, officers having seized the packs, as they were getting ready to leave, Tophiek's attitude changed.

"He became abusive and started demanding his property be returned to him, calling officers "b*****ds" in the process.

The court heard 205 packs were concealed behind the kitchen unit, among them 103 packs of counterfeit Richmond and 34 Mayfair cigarettes, and none complied with plain-packaging regulations.

A further 60 packs were on open display in the tobacco gantry, which did not comply with standardised or plain-packaging requirements.

Mr McNamara added: "Cut price tobacco, as well as encouraging smoking, undermines the livelihoods of honest retailers in the area, who find it impossible to compete and often have to turn to illicit sales themselves just to stay afloat. Then there is the cost to the tax man, who, for every illicit pack of cigarettes and tobacco sold, is deprived of VAT and duty of averaging £6.36 and £11.13 respectively, equivalent to a potential revenue loss in this case of £1,637.70 on the products seized alone."