A STRUGGLING Swindon shopkeeper sold counterfeit and contraband cigarettes and tobacco in his shop in an effort to make ends meet, a court has heard.

Ali Sari, 36, of Manchester Road, pleaded guilty to eight charges of selling the illegal items when he appeared before the town’s magistrates.

Prosecuting for Swindon Borough Council, Phil Worth told the bench that trading standards officers from the council had visited the shop, Efes Off-licence, on December 8 last year.

They found packets of cigarettes for sale bearing the names Mayfair and Richmond but the contents of the boxes were not manufactured by the companies licensed to produce them.

The officers also found packets of hand-rolling tobacco, of the brands Amber Leaf, Golden Virginia and Gold Leaf, which carried neither the compulsory health warnings nor the duty-paid fiscal mark.

Mr Wirth said that when interviewed by police, Sari admitted he had bought the items suspecting them to have been illegally imported from Belgium and Holland.

He refused, however, to name his supplier.

Mr Wirth added that counterfeit cigarettes had no quality control and, in addition to the harmful effects of the lawful products, had intrinsically damaging chemical properties.

Gordon Hotson, defending, said Sari did not appreciate that some of the cigarettes were fake and potentially dangerous although he did know they were from abroad.

He said Sari was struggling to run two small shops in Swindon and attempted to make a bit more profit by selling items cheaper than his competitors.

He had only sold small quantities for a short period and had already had to close one of his shops. The one in Manchester Road would also soon be closed, Mr Hotson said.

He added that Sari, who is married with two small children, found running small shops too challenging and would be applying for change of use to takeway food.

Initially Sari’s shop had been the only one in the area selling alcohol but in recent years others had also obtained licences and Sari had to sell tobacco products to keep up with the increasing competition.

When he was approached with cut-price cigarettes he suspected they were duty free but had no idea they could cause harm to his customers.

Sentencing Sari, chairman of the bench Peter Barrand said the magistrates had taken his guilty pleas into account and the fact that a relatively small number of the good had been on sale for a short period.

On the other hand, Mr Barrand said, Sari had been cautioned in the past for a similar offence and he had chosen not to identify his supplier.

Sari was sentenced to a 12-month community order with the requirement that he complete 120 hours of unpaid work for the benefit of the community.

He was also ordered to pay the borough council’s costs of £2,967 and a victim surcharge of £85.

The magistrates ordered the destruction of the seized cigarettes.