A Leeds shopkeeper who was caught selling illicit cigarettes was “preyed upon” by eastern European crime gangs, a court heard.
Mebrahtu Gebreyonas was prosecuted at Leeds Magistrates’ Court for selling counterfeit and non-duty paid cigarettes at his store Somalian Grocers, in Harehills Road, Harehills.
The 45-year-old father of three, of Appleton Square, Burmantofts, was fined after admitting the offences.
But his solicitor, Andy Hollas, claimed Gebreyonas was himself a victim.
He said he was unaware of the rules governing the retail of cigarettes and added: “His ignorance has been preyed upon by eastern European gangs... he won’t be the only shop keeper who has been approached by unscrupulous gangs.”
Mr Hollas said Gebreyonas and his family had fled persecution in Africa seven years ago and he had tried to “gainfully work” since then.
The court heard West Yorkshire Trading Standards officers seized more than 7,000 cigarettes from the store after a complaint that Gebreyonas was selling cut-price, non-packaged cigarettes.
Some of the packs looked like legitimate brands, many had none of the statutory health warnings.
Mr Hollas added: “I suspect he has fallen victim to some sort of bargain deals at the hands of organised criminals.”
Derek Hallam, prosecuting for West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “This is a very, very big issue for this country as a whole. You can’t put that at this defendant’s door, but overall it’s a very big issue. It’s an issue with children starting to smoke who become addicted. There’s the health risk in itself for the people supplying the tobacco and the cost for us all of the treatement people require on the NHS.”
He said the supply of illicit products cost the taxpayer an estimated £2bn a year.
Gebreyonas was fined £200, ordered to pay £1,608 in court costs and given a 12-week curfew.