Shops in the West Midlands and west London have been raided in operations to clampdown on illegal tobacco and alcohol.
More than one million suspected illicit cigarettes have been seized during an operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco in Birmingham and Smethwick.
Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), supported by Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team and Border Force, visited 22 retail premises and 17 self-storage units last week (January 21 and 22 January).
The visits led to the seizure of more than one million cigarettes from 11 retail premises, including 632,000 from a self-storage unit in Birmingham and 297,000 cigarettes from a storage facility in Wednesbury.
Cash totalling £12,000 and 23 kilos of tobacco were also seized from locations across the area. The total duty and VAT evaded on the cigarettes and tobacco is £260,000.
Councillor Barbara Dring, chair of Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “The raids carried out across Birmingham by HMRC, working in partnership with our Trading Standards officers, have successfully taken 632,000 illicit cigarettes and 23 kilos of illicit tobacco out of circulation.
“Those involved in dealing in illegal tobacco may be encouraging people, including children to smoke by providing a cheap source. This activity also brings crime into our neighbourhoods, which is why it is important to clamp down on it. This also has an impact on those businesses that are trading legally.
“Detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if hidden in the most unlikely places, so offenders who choose to deal in these illegal products need to know they will face the consequences of selling them.”
Investigations into the seizures are continuing.
In a separate operation tobacco and alcohol were seized in Ealing. HMRC and Metropolitan Police Service officers seized illicit goods from two independent stores in Acton W3, on 27 January, including: 2,500 litres of beer; 10 litres of spirits; 2,600 litres of wine; 7,200 cigarettes; and five kilos of hand rolling tobacco. The total duty evaded is around £7,670
Jennie Kendall, spokesperson for HMRC, said: “This illegal trade has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers, who have to compete with black market traders. It’s robbing the UK economy of vital funding and those selling these goods do not promote they are buying them from criminals - the profits of which are funding organised crime to the detriment of all our communities.
“We appeal to local people and businesses to join us in the fight against crime and encourage anyone with information on illegally imported goods, or tax evasion and fraud, to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.”
Sergeant Graham Edwards, Ealing Borough Licensing, said: "In Ealing we strive to reduce alcohol related violence. The availability of cheap alcohol can cause this and counterfeit alcohol is a potential risk to public health. Our excellent partnership working with HMRC is enabling us to reduce the amount of alcohol and tobacco that is either counterfeit, or where the duty has not been paid, from shop-shelves and therefore from the streets of Ealing. This is an excellent result and we look forward to future joint operations with our HMRC colleagues."
No arrests have currently been made. Investigations are ongoing.
The operation is part of Operation Equinox, a Metropolitan Police Service initiative to reduce violence with injury.