The essential journalist news source
Organised Crime Group sentenced to a total of 25 years of immediate imprisonment and 9 years as a suspended sentence

Members of a South Wales Organised Crime Group (OCG) which sold illegal tobacco, cigarettes and Nitrous Oxide while money-laundering more than £1.5m were sentenced today to a total of 25 years of immediate imprisonment and 9 years as suspended sentences, at Swansea Crown Court.

All eleven members of the OCG initially pleaded not guilty to a fraud in excess of £1.8m carried out between September 6, 2013, and February 5, 2022. 

But during an initial trial three defendants changed their plea to guilty part way through, and two more defendants pleaded guilty during a second trial in which the remaining six defendants were found guilty of fraud by unanimous verdict.

Four members of the criminal organisation were also found guilty of money laundering offences to the value of more than £1.5million.

During the investigation, officers from Cardiff, and Bridgend and Vale councils’ Shared Regulatory Services (SRS) seized £600,000 of illegal tobacco, based on market cost, along with £12,500 worth of Nitrous Oxide cannisters.

The operation against the gang began in February 2020, following intelligence that several shops in the South Wales area were selling illegal tobacco and Nitrous Oxide. Significant amounts of cigarettes and tobacco were seized initially, but the shops appeared to restock immediately, and continued to sell the illegal products to the local community, including children.

The criminal group operated their business from at least seven shops in South Wales, most were in Cardiff but shops in Barry and Bridgend were also used including:

·       Best European Food Ltd, Clifton Street, Cardiff

·       Laz Mini Market. Clifton Street, Cardiff

·       Barry Stores, Tynewydd Road, Barry

·       European Shop, Holton Road, Barry

World and Food Ltd, Holton Road, Barry

·       Apna Bazaar Bridgend Ltd, Dunraven Place, Bridgend

·       European Mini Market, Tudor Street, Cardiff

The gang used the shops as a front, appearing to sell genuine products and other legitimate produce, but in fact, an intricate subterfuge was being carried out with flats above the shops and other hidden spaces used to hide huge amounts of illegal tobacco which was being sold to customers.

The court heard that at a conservative estimate, each shop was making approximately £1000 a day from selling illegal tobacco and Nitrous Oxide, with the total value of illegal sales estimated at £3.8m.

Some of the illegal tobacco was stored in Safestore units or in the defendant’s homes, with the tobacco and cigarettes being moved in cars with blacked out windows to the shops and the flats above late at night or in the early hours of the morning.

The illegal tobacco was often stored in large, concealed spaces in the shops or the flats. Powerful, remote controlled, electric magnets were used to unlock these spaces which were invisible to the human eye and only found by using sniffer dogs and by breaking through walls.

Other techniques the gang used to deliver their products included electric winches and plastic tubes linking the shop with the flat above, with tobacco being passed down a tube when a customer made a purchase.

Helen Picton, Head of shared Regulatory Services said: “Searches and test purchases at all seven shops resulted in £600,000 of illegal tobacco taken off the streets of South Wales. This is a mere fraction of the criminality in this case, as it doesn’t consider any cigarettes or tobacco that were sold by the criminal gang.

“Although they thought they were operating with impunity, what they didn’t know is that they were being monitored and as the two trials showed, there was overwhelming evidence for the juries to find them guilty of these offences. It was clear from the investigation that they believed they were entitled to carry out their fraudulent business and showed little remorse.

“‘Illegal tobacco does great harm in the community. Its cheapness and ease of supply are particularly attractive to young people and others on lower incomes, and it eliminates the price incentive for existing smokers to quit the habit. I’m delighted to see the successful conclusion of this long and extended investigation. Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.”

Sergeant Jake Rollnick from South Wales Police said: “Officers from Cardiff and Vale Neighbourhood Policeing Teams worked closely alongside the Shared Regulatory Services and other government agencies in bringing these offenders to justice over a period of 18 months. It consisted of multiple warrants and intervention and just goes to show what we can achieve in partnership”.

Ten members of the OCG listed below were sentenced for carrying out a ‘business for a fraudulent purpose’ to the value of £1.8 million between September 6, 2013, until February 5, 2022. An eleventh, Karwan Mohammadi, was sentenced for the same offence, but over a shorter period of time, between January 7th, 2020, and February 25th, 2022. The sentence for each defendant is given below:

·       Ali Khaleel Hassan Aldarawish, 34, from Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff, was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.

·       Shwan Kamal Sofizada, 32, from Caeglass Road, Rumney, Cardiff, was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment.

·       Abdulla Laksari, 37, from Alice Street, Butetown, Cardiff, was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment.

·       Farhard (Farman) Sofizadeh, 32, from High Street, Barry, was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.

·       Saman Abobakir Sedik, 45, from High View Bridgend, was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.

·       Karwan Mohammadi, 31, from Canton Court, Riverside, Cardiff, was sentenced to 2 years suspended for 12 months with an unpaid work requirement of 150 hours of unpaid work.

·       Mariwam Mohammed, 38, from Gold Street, Adamsdown, Cardiff, was sentenced to 19 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months with 150 hours unpaid work and a 10-day rehabilitation requirement.

·       Aiysha Bibi, 24, from High Street, Barry, was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment suspended for 18 months with a 20-day rehabilitation requirement.

·       (name and details redacted due to ongoing court proceedings) will be sentenced at a later date.
Rebin Hatam Ahmed, 32, from Drayton Street, Walsall, was sentenced to 19months suspended for 12 months with unpaid work requirement of 100 hours and a 10-day rehabilitation requirement.

Alan Abdullah, 23, from Fleetwood Road, Leicester, was sentenced to 2 years suspended for 12 months with 100 hours of unpaid work and a 10-day rehabilitation requirement.

In addition to the charge of carrying out a business for a fraudulent purpose, the following defendants were also prosecuted for money laundering.

·       Ali Aldarawish was found guilty of one count of Money Laundering to the sum of £792,255.

·       Shwan Sofizada was found guilty of one count of Money Laundering to the sum of £171,219.

·       Abdulla Laksari was found guilty to two counts of Money Laundering to the sum of £476,069.

·       Saman Sedik was found guilty of one count of Money Laundering to the sum of £112,389.