Two warrants executed at shops in Chatham have resulted in officers seizing more than 70,000 illegal cigarettes.
As well as the cigarettes, police also seized £5,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act and 20.15kg of hand rolled tobacco during the visits on 30 October 2020.
Two businesses in the town were visited by officers from the Medway Community Safety Unit and Community Policing Unit who were working in partnership with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Medway Council’s Public Health Team, and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
Court warrants were secured ahead of the visits which allowed officers to access private areas of the shops and conduct thorough searches.
BWY Canine Specialist Search Dogs, who train dogs to search for tobacco, also assisted and helped to uncover the seized goods, which had not paid the necessary UK duties.
Illegal tobacco products are incredibly dangerous
Cllr David Brake, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Adult Services, covering Public Health, said: "It is fantastic news that tens of thousands of illegal cigarettes have been stopped from being sold in Medway. This a great example of how we are working with our partners at Kent Police and HMRC to protect our residents. Illegal tobacco products are incredibly dangerous and can cause serious health problems. I would encourage residents to continue to report shops selling illegal tobacco to us."
We will continue to clamp down on businesses involved in this type of offending
Inspector Steve Bassett, from Kent Police, said: "This was the second time in recent months that we have targeted shops we believed were profiting from the sale of illegal cigarettes and tobacco products. These items are brought into the country by organised crime gangs and offending like this is not a harmless crime, they benefit at the expense of UK taxpayers. Opportunistic shopkeepers who sell these items also gain an unfair advantage over law abiding businesses and this can have a detrimental impact on the livelihoods of shop holders acting legitimately. We will continue to clamp down on businesses which are involved in this type of offending."
Clamping down on the illicit tobacco market
Tom Hunnisett, Assistant Director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market, which steals money away from our vital public services and undermines legitimate traders. We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887."