Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Store Was Just Front for Illegal Sale of Cigarettes

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Store Was Just Front for Illegal Sale of Cigarettes

Article excerpt

Byline: IAN JOHNSON ian.johnson01@trinitymirror.com @Ian_JohnsonGaz

A KURDISH gang used a papershop as a front to flood Teesside's streets with potentially deadly tobacco.

Every cigarette tested following multiple raids at Boro News failed basic safety tests.

Knock-offs of major brands like Richmond and Mayfair were found during stings at the Gresham Road store in Middlesbrough.

But officials also found black market packets of Jin Ling, a Russianmade brand linked to a 71-year-old pensioner's death in an unrelated case.

Foot soldiers Shaida Abdulrahman and Morad Zadah avoided jail for their roles - although illegal immigrant Abdulrahman now faces deportation.

However, sentencing for the plot's "Mr Big" Arifi Ahmedi was held up after he attended court, only for a red-tape wrangle meaning he had to go back to a police station - simply to be returned back to court.

Teesside Magistrates' Court heard all three defendants still deny any wrongdoing.

But prosecutor Malcolm Hope said their claims were exposed by the shop's "woefully inadequate" stock levels, which would have made making a legal profit nigh-on impossible.

"In reality it was a front for the sale of illicit tobacco," said the solicitor, prosecuting on behalf of Middlesbrough Council. More than 5,000 cigarettes were seized, with rolling tobacco also removed.

Mr Hope said testing revealed a safety strip, designed to stop them burning through, was missing.

"This vastly increases their risk as a fire hazard."

All three defendants were convicted following a trial. At Teesside Magistrates' Court on Friday, Ahmedi was said to have been "top of the totem pole" in the operation and has similar previous convictions.

However, the 27-year-old from Grimsby, was absent for sentencing.

Following the trial, which he missed, a warrant was issued for his arrest. …

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