Shopkeeper finds huge haul of untaxed cigarettes and tobacco hidden in his store

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates Court
Wigan and Leigh Magistrates Court

A Wigan shopkeeper was stunned to find a haul of untaxed cigarettes in his store, which had been hidden by a member of the public.

Cristian Sagau concealed a huge haul of cigarettes, on which he had not paid duty, inside the shop after fearing that police would catch him carrying the stash.

But the 46-year-old Romanian was rumbled after the shop owner contacted HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Appearing at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court with the aid of an interpreter, Sagau, of Railway Road, Leigh, pleaded guilty to possession of unmarked tobacco products.

The court heard how, on June 27, the owner of European Food Store in Leigh Road, Leigh, discovered a large black bag while cleaning the shop after closing time.

He opened it and was astonished to discover more than 6,200 cigarettes and 700g of rolling tobacco inside.

He left the bag in his kitchen and immediately contacted HMRC, who in turn contacted the police.

Officers arrived at the store the following day and spoke to staff about the mysterious stash.

They confirmed they knew it was illegal to evade paying duty on cigarettes, but said they were unaware of where the bag had come from.

Later that day, the shopkeeper was surprised to find Sagau come into the shop looking for the bag, only to discover it had been confiscated.

He confirmed that the bag belonged to him.

It was revealed that Sagau had collected the haul of cigarettes from a courier opposite the shop the evening before.

Realising there was a significant police presence in the area at the time, Sagau panicked, entered the shop and hid the bag.

He planned to retrieve it that same evening, but the shop had closed by the time he returned.

When questioned by the police, Sagau said he wasn’t intent on selling the items, and was going to pass them out to friends and family.

The evaded tax was estimated at around £1,991.24

Sagau, who has been a UK resident for two years, also said he did not know that such products needed to be duty-paid, and accepted that he had “made a reckless mistake.”

The court was told that ignorance of the law does not constitute a defence.

Sagau was handed a fine of £422, and ordered to pay £85 in court costs and a victim surcharge of £42, making a total of £549. He was also ordered to hand over the entire haul of tobacco products.