Fake Cigarettes Seized
More than 350,000 counterfeit cigarettes have been seized from newsagents and homes in Kent during raids targeting the illicit tobacco and alcohol trade.
Customs officers also seized rolling tobacco as well as beer, wine and spirits during the operation in Chatham and Gillingham earlier this week.
In all 30 shops and 11 residential properties were raided in the two day joint operation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Kent Police and Trading Standards Officers.
A number of the shops may now lose their liquor licences, which would effectively ban them from selling or storing alcohol products.
Bob Gaiger, HMRC Kent spokesperson, said: "Alcohol and tobacco fraud harms honest businesses, costs jobs, and takes money away from public services.
"Tobacco smugglers alone drain over £2 billion in revenue from the public purse each year. This type of fraud is a problem which we are determined to crack."
During the raids officers seized seizing 363,620 cigarettes, 153.9 kilos of hand rolling tobacco and 80.9 litres of spirits. Quantities of wine and beer were also confiscated.
The revenue loss on the seized excise goods is around £135,000.
Many of the cigarette brands found are known as 'Cheap Whites'. They are effectively made purely for smuggling and often obtained in large quantities by organised crime gangs who smuggle them into the UK.
They are then sold illegally in residential areas, pubs and clubs and some small independent retail shops.
Counterfeit alcohol enters the retail market from the backs of vehicles across the country, often made in illegal factories in the UK. It is also smuggled from industrial scale production in Europe.
Medway Council's Portfolio Holder for Community Safety Cllr Mike O'Brien said: "Many people may not view illegal tobacco as a problem, but the rise has seen a direct impact on health, crime and the economy and it can only be tackled if everyone plays their part.
"These raids send a clear message to anyone who deals in illegal tobacco and alcohol - we will not tolerate it and operate a zero tolerance approach to any of these illegal activities. We will continue to work with our partners to tackle this issue now and in the future."
Local residents and businesses are being urged to help in the fight against crime and are encouraged to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email: email@example.com with information relating to illegally imported goods or tax evasion and fraud.