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Organised Crime Group sentenced to immediate imprisonment following SRS investigation

Members of a South Wales Organised Crime Group, which sold illegal tobacco, cigarettes and Nitrous Oxide while money-laundering more than £1.5m, were recently sentenced at Swansea Crown Court to a total of 25 years of immediate imprisonment and 9 years as suspended sentences.

During the investigation, officers from Cardiff, and Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan councils’ Shared Regulatory Services (SRS) seized £600,000 of illegal tobacco, based on market cost, along with £12,500 worth of Nitrous Oxide cannisters.

All eleven members of the group initially pleaded not guilty to a fraud in excess of £1.8m carried out between 2013 and 2022. 

But during an initial trial, three defendants changed their plea to guilty part way through, and two more defendants pleaded guilty during a second trial in which the remaining six defendants were found guilty of fraud by unanimous verdict. Four members of the criminal organisation were also found guilty of money laundering offences to the value of more than £1.5million.

The operation against the gang began in February 2020, following intelligence that several shops in the South Wales area were selling illegal tobacco and Nitrous Oxide. Significant amounts of cigarettes and tobacco were seized initially, but the shops appeared to restock immediately, and continued to sell the illegal products to the local community, including children.

The criminal group operated their business from at least seven shops in South Wales, most were in Cardiff but shops in Barry and Bridgend were also used including:

  • Apna Bazaar Bridgend Ltd, Dunraven Place, Bridgend
  • Best European Food Ltd, Clifton Street, Cardiff
  • Laz Mini Market. Clifton Street, Cardiff
  • Barry Stores, Tynewydd Road, Barry
  • European Shop, Holton Road, Barry
  • World and Food Ltd, Holton Road, Barry
  •  European Mini Market, Tudor Street, Cardiff

The gang used the shops as a front, appearing to sell genuine products and other legitimate produce, but in fact, an intricate subterfuge was being carried out with flats above the shops and other hidden spaces used to hide huge amounts of illegal tobacco which was being sold to customers.

The court heard that at a conservative estimate, each shop was making approximately £1000 a day from selling illegal tobacco and Nitrous Oxide, with the total value of illegal sales estimated at £3.8m.

The illegal tobacco was often stored in large, concealed spaces in the shops or the flats. Powerful, remote controlled, electric magnets were used to unlock these spaces which were invisible to the human eye and only found by using sniffer dogs and by breaking through walls.

Searches and test purchases at all seven shops resulted in £600,000 of illegal tobacco taken off the streets of South Wales. This is a mere fraction of the criminality in this case, as it doesn’t consider any cigarettes or tobacco that were sold by the criminal gang.

Although they thought they were operating with impunity, what they didn’t know is that they were being monitored and as the two trials showed, there was overwhelming evidence for the juries to find them guilty of these offences. It was clear from the investigation that they believed they were entitled to carry out their fraudulent business and showed little remorse.

Illegal tobacco does great harm in the community. Its cheapness and ease of supply are particularly attractive to young people and others on lower incomes, and it eliminates the price incentive for existing smokers to quit the habit. I’m delighted to see the successful conclusion of this long and extended investigation. Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.

Helen Picton, Head of Shared Regulatory Services

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