Boss of Pontefract off-licence Zabka offers 'bizarre' explanation for discovery of £6,000 worth of counterfeit cigarettes in his store
A shop manager’s "bizarre" excuse for why counterfeit tobacco was found in his store has been rejected for lacking "credibility" at a public hearing.
Fazal Kader, who runs Zabka in Pontefract town centre, insisted he'd had no involvement with the £6,000 worth of illegal cigarettes, which were found in the backroom of his store before Christmas.The shop has been stripped of its permission to sell booze because of the findings.
Police told a licensing hearing on Tuesday that an undercover officer had bought illicit cigarettes from Zabka on November 12 last year as part of a test purchase operation.
Eighteen days later, the authorities found more than 1,000 illicit cigarettes in a rear store room when they visited the premises.
The meeting also heard that a "failed asylum seeker" with "no right to work in the UK" - a man Mr Kader said was his nephew - was also caught trying to flee the store when he saw police arrive.
But Mr Kader, who took over the premises in 2019, said he'd been completely unaware the cigarettes were in the shop and that he'd been absent from the store for much of November because his baby had been sick.
He also denied that his nephew had been working in Zabka illegally, claiming he'd been frequenting the shop because he was in a relationship with a female staff member.
Trying to explain why illicit cigarettes had been sold on November 12, Mr Kader said his nephew had bought some tobacco from elsewhere earlier that day, but disliked it, and had then kept the packet in his pocket while hanging around in the store.
It was claimed that he had then sold the packet onto the undercover officer for £5 when they came into the shop asking for cigarettes.
Police refuted this claim however, when they pointed to CCTV stills suggesting that a completely different man working behind the till had sold the tobacco that day.
Insisting he'd had no knowledge of the tobacco in the back room, Mr Kader claimed he'd later been told by his staff that the cigarettes in the back room had been left by a man who called himself "Martin" from a nearby store which was "closing down".
They then left without leaving their contact details and never returned, Mr Kader suggested.
But in response, the licensing panel chair, Councillor Martyn Johnson said: "Why would someone leave so many cigarettes? I find that a little bit bizarre.
He added later: "The staff sold a packet of those cigarettes for £5. Are you selling everything at half price?
"Cigarettes should be £10 or more."
The hearing was told that Mr Kader had been "put forward as the saviour" of the shop in 2019 after Zabka had been caught selling illicit cigarettes under previous management on two separate occasions.
His solicitor said he was a man of good character, with no previous convictions and no prior involvement in the selling of illicit tobacco.
But Councillor Dick Taylor added: "Do you take any notice of these visits from the police?"
"I find it very hard to believe a lot of what's been said. There's people in your shop selling these cigarettes and you're saying you know nothing about it. I find that so hard to believe."
Mr Kader said: "You're right. My failure is to trust people. I should be more careful in future.
He later added: "I promise this won't happen again. My nephew is not my staff. He shouldn't be there."
It was also revealed that another premises belonging to Mr Kader was raided for illicit cigarettes on January 26.
After deliberating for more than two hours the panel said Mr Kader's explanations were "without credibility and not accepted."
A statement read out its behalf, explaining the decision to revoke the alcohol licence, said: "Criminal conduct has been taking place over a period of time, during which Mr Kader has had the opportunity to eradicate (it).
"Mr Kader has failed and shown a complete disregard to his duties as a licence holder."
Zabka has the right to appeal the decision.
Local Democracy Reporting Service