A shop keeper has admitted possession of more than 10,000 cigarettes found at his home.
Tajinder Singh, who runs Washington Wine and Convenience, in Usworth, claims that despite their low price, he believed the cigarettes were legitimate.
They have also taken a huge amount of legitimate cigarettes from him, several thousand pounds worthJason Smith, defending
The 37-year-old married father-of-two was visited his home in Rickleton by immigration officers last spring, South Tyneside magistrates heard.
Prosecutor Glenda Beck said that on May 22, last year, a multi-agency operation into immigration matters was carried out, involving Northumbria Police, UK Border Force immigration officers, Trading Standards and HM Customs.
Singh’s home in Hargill Drive, Washington, was visited and a quantity of cigarettes were found in the garage.
Ms Beck said: “Cigarettes were also found at the convenience store Washington Wines At 102 The Drive, Washington.”
The court heard HMRC officers attended and seized 9,400 Lambert & Butler-branded cigarettes, which were counterfeit.
Some were in the new-style plain packaging and some were in older branded packaging.
All bore the UK duty paid fiscal mark, the court was told.
Ms Beck said: “The defendant is the proprietor of Washington Wines.
“HMRC attended these premises and found a quality of counterfeit Lambert & Butler cigarettes on sale amongst legitimate Lambert & Butler cigarettes.
“All of the cigarettes displayed on sale were seized.
“The genuine cigarettes were forfeited due to being mixed in with the counterfeit ones.”
Of the 900 cigarettes seized from the shop, 640 were confirmed counterfeit. All were in plain packaging.
The court heard a total of 10,040 counterfeit cigarettes were seized from Singh, resulting in £2,861.85 in evaded duty.
The court heard officers met with Singh’s external accountant and found he was not aware of the invoices issued by Go Go Beers, the supplier of the fake cigarettes.
It was also discovered that the VAT number used by Go Go Beers actually belonged to a completely unrelated business, which had seized trading in 2014.
Ms Beck said Singh claimed to have carried out ‘due diligence checks’ on Go Go Beers by googling them.
Singh pleaded guilty to fraudulently evading duty on goods.
Jason Smith, defending, said: “Mr Singh is actually strangely enough the victim.
“He’s been taken advantage of by what seem to be fraudsters.
“He’s never had any difficulties with the Inland Revenue it Customs and Excise or the immigration services or anybody.
“Sadly, the situation is that his retail business fell on difficult times.
“He received some advertising trying to sell him products. Go Go Beers were able to offer deals in relation to cigarettes,£2 to £3 cheaper per sleeve of cigarettes than the local cash and carry.”
Mr Smith said immigration services had visited due to Singh’s elderly parents staying on a visitors’ visa from India, hoping to secure residency.
Mr Smith said: “Police officers were with them and had a scoot around the property. They found these cigarettes which were not legitimate.
“Mr Singh didn’t know that but obviously he’s in possession of these cigarettes and the responsibility rests with him.
“They have also taken a huge amount of legitimate cigarettes from him, several thousand pounds worth.”
Mr Smith added that the convictions may have ramifications in terms of his licence.
Singh was fined £640 and was told to pay £85 costs and a £64 surcharge.
An HMRC spokesman said: “Singh thought it was acceptable to sell counterfeit cigarettes over the counter to line his pockets with taxpayer’s money.
“HMRC will continue to work with partner agencies to crack down on the illegal tobacco market which damages legitimate businesses and takes money away from our public services.
“If you know anyone committing tobacco fraud please contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”