Kent: Illicit Tobacco Trade Stubbed Out

A former shopkeeper who admitted selling illegal cigarettes and tobacco at the chain of food stores she ran in Kent has been jailed for 18 months.

When police raided Tatjana Cekanova's home in Ramsgate they found 40,000 contraband cigarettes and some £21,000 in cash.

Cekanova, 60, ran the Baltic Branch Limited food store chain with her business partner, Andrius Rickus, 39. Between August 2011 and July 2013, their shops in Dover, Ramsgate and Margate sold thousands of illegal cigarettes and kilos of hand-rolling tobacco under the counter.

Rickus was ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,250 in court costs.

Alan Tully, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "This couple thought nothing of stealing public money to line their own pockets by selling illicit cigarettes and tobacco from under the counter.

"The trade in illicit tobacco costs the UK around £2 billion a year, but HMRC is clamping down to ensure there is a level playing field for honest, hard-working retailers who have to compete with criminals.

"We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to contact our 24-hour Hotline on 0800 59 5000."

Cekanova pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty and money laundering. Rickus pleaded guilty to harbouring excise goods.

Mr Recorder Lowe said to Cekanova at sentencing: "There was a busy and continuous sale. Those who commit these offences must know they will go to prison. There must have been five-times the revenue lost."

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