Tobacco frauds uncovered in Banbury and Witney - tracker dog sniffs out thousands of 'fake fags' in west Oxfordshire

Trading standards in Oxfordshire successfully prosecuted two store owners who were sentenced last week for illegal tobacco sales in Banbury and Witney.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 10:11 am
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 10:17 am
Dog handler Stuart Phillips of BWY Canine Ltd and tobacco detection dog Scamp, with illegal cigarettes found at the home address

The case of the Banbury shop owner, who was fined and ordered to pay back £75,000, was highlighted by the Banbury Guardian last Thursday. See story here.

In the same week, Oxford Crown Court dealt with the owner of a west Oxfordshire Polish deli, who was given a 28-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to being the ringleader of an illegal tobacco fraud.

Jacek Mazurek, 46, Director of Witney Polish Deli Ltd, which trades from Corn Street in Witney, admitted to running his business for the fraudulent purpose of selling counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes between 2013 and 2018, in a case brought by Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards team.

Joining him in the dock were his employee Sylwia Jablonska, 42, described in an earlier court hearing as the 'custodian' for allowing the illegal tobacco to be stored in her house and his former sales assistant Malgorzata Gerwatowska, 34, who acted as the 'runner', retrieving the cigarettes and supplying them to customers in the shop.

A warrant was executed at Jablonska’s home in October 2018 when nearly 25,000 illegal cigarettes were seized from a locked cupboard. Later examination by experts showed that the haul included over 6,000 counterfeit Marlboro Gold cigarettes that were labelled in German. The trio were arrested and interviewed by trading standards officers at Abingdon police station.

Jablonska pleaded guilty to possessing counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes that did not display the required health warnings and Gerwatowska admitted her role in supplying smuggled cigarettes. They were both sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years.

A confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act to determine Mazurek’s benefit from his criminal conduct will be heard at a later date.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for community safety, said: “This illegal activity brings crime into our neighbourhoods. That’s why it is so important to clamp down on it. It also has an impact on those legitimate businesses that are trading lawfully, putting them at a commercial disadvantage by criminals peddling their illicit wares.”

Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Head of Trading Standards, added: “Cracking down on the illegal tobacco trade is one of our top priorities for action, not only because smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death but we also know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco helps recruit the next generation of smokers and undermines initiatives to help adults quit smoking.”

The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence which can result in imprisonment and unlimited fines. Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can do so anonymously online to trading standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call the illegal tobacco hotline on 0300 999 6 999.