Shopkeeper busted over smuggled cigs

Food and Wine in Forest Road, Walthamstow
Food & Wine in Forest Road, Walthamstow

Walthamstow shop loses licence after being caught with illegal goods, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

A shopkeeper has lost his alcohol licence for three months after he was accused of selling smuggled cigarettes.

Waltham Forest Council’s licensing committee also permanently banned Food & Wine in Forest Road, Walthamstow, from selling single cans or bottles of alcohol and the shop in future must remind customers that they are in a ‘no drinking zone’.

Metropolitan Police officer Darren Brand searched the shop in October, claiming he had received an anonymous tip-off it was selling cigarettes to children, plus seized duty-free tobacco.

A few days before the tip-off, he had sent shop owner Huseyin Buz an email about the “numerous complaints” of “street drinkers and other undesirables” loitering outside the shop.

Buz insists the cigarettes were purchased legitimately in a duty-free shop, were intended as a gift for his wife, and were never sold to customers. His lawyer Mahir Kilic told the Local Democracy Reporting Service today that the shop would appeal the decision.

He said: “The conditions they are imposing have nothing to do with tobacco products. They imposed lots of conditions, including no single cans of beer, relating to the sale of alcohol.

“The sale of tobacco is not a licensable activity. The correct way of dealing with this kind of incident is to take the licence holder to court.”

While most of the conditions imposed by the committee, such as training staff on the sale of age-restricted products, refer to both alcohol and tobacco, three are related only to alcohol sales. These are the ban of selling single bottles or cans, reminding customers they are in a no-drinking zone, and conducting regular litter picks of alcohol containers outside the shop.

The committee also recommended Buz “liaise with the local safer neighbourhood policing team and exchange information with them regarding local street drinkers and local issues”.

At the meeting on Monday, the licensing committee heard police seized duty-free tobacco from the shop twice last year and that Buz had “a blatant disregard for the law”.

Buz, through his lawyer, insisted the cigarettes were not smuggled but purchased at a duty-free shop in Poland and were for his wife rather than for sale.

A council officer said: “People who buy and sell illegal tobacco line the pockets of criminal gangs. Such organised crime contributes to an underground economy worth billions of pounds.”

Buz, however, insisted he had never sold any of the duty-free cigarettes in his shop and had fired his own brother after learning he had sold some in his absence. 

PC Brand said officers seized 28 packets of Minsk Capital cigarettes and three boxes of other tobacco products, all without duty paid, when they visited last year.

His statement noted Buz “was adamant that he was not in the business of selling illegal tobacco” and bought the Minsk Capital for his wife, while his brother bought the rest for himself.

Police visited again on 21st November and seized 18 packets of Marlboro cigarettes, which Buz’s lawyer insisted he had in fact “voluntarily shown” to the officer to avoid trouble.

He again said the cigarettes were a gift for his wife, which he had been given by his Polish neighbour, whose contact information he was happy to supply.

Buz submitted more than 200 pages of invoices to the committee, showing tobacco purchases for the shop from legitimate suppliers between October and December last year.

His lawyer told the committee: “We say there was no sale of smuggled goods at this premises, full stop. These cigarettes, although they are not labelled, are not smuggled.

“The amount of cigarettes seized is less than £200 worth but trading standards are seeking [to ruin] his livelihood. It is definitely not his intention to sell smuggled goods.”