West End seizure: pictures released of the raid on the unnamed premises and, below, the cash
Published: 5 February, 2016
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA
TWENTY-EIGHT thousand cigarettes, worth around £8,000, have been seized by Westminster Council as part of a crackdown on illegal tobacco.
City council officials say they found the products with the help of detection dogs at a premises near Shaftesbury Avenue, hidden in boxes which used to contain items such as a toy Lego car and fitness equipment.
Hi-tech sniffer: sporting a camera
They also say they seized more than £80,000 of cash, stored in large bundles of £20 notes and hidden in wash bags.
Councillor Nickie Aiken, Westminster’s cabinet member for public protection and licensing, said: “It is not acceptable for legitimate retailers to be undercut by those who are willing to flout the rules.
“All too often illicit tobacco has links to serious organised crime and we will continue to work hard to protect residents, visitors and businesses in Westminster.
“Detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes in the most unlikely places and, in addition to having their stock confiscated, offenders could face unlimited fines and up to 10 years in prison.”
The raid, carried out alongside HM Revenue & Customs officials, was part of a large-scale initiative known as Operation Henry 2, set up to deal with illicit tobacco supplies across the country.
The raids were co-ordinated by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and supported by the Department of Health.
Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said: “The illegal tobacco trade costs taxpayers about £2billion per year in lost revenue and is known to fund organised crime networks and criminal gang activity. Meanwhile, about 80,000 people die from smoking-related diseases each year in England alone, costing the overstretched National Health Service an estimated £2billion. Together we are winning the battle and figures show that the market share of illicit cigarettes has dropped from 21 per cent to 9 per cent in the last decade.”
During the first operation of its kind last year, more than 2.5million cigarettes were seized.