A SHOPKEEPER in Blackburn has been given a suspended prison sentence after masterminding a £25,000 fake tobacco scam.

Customs investigators initially raided an industrial unit on the Carlinghurst Business Park, in George Street West, in late March 2016 and uncovered more than 50,000 counterfeit cigarettes and 59.3 kilos of under-the-counter hand-rolling tobacco.

Weeks later the same officials visited Ismail Issat’s Cheaper Market, in Manxman Road, and discovered 600 fake cigarettes and 850 grams of tobacco in a storeroom at the back of the store.

An inquiry established that Issat, 61, had been renting the George Street West unit since December 2013.

Customs estimate the trader dodged £24,921 in excise duty, as a result of the first seizure and £387 from the later raid.

Issat, of Cumberland Street, Blackburn, pleaded guilty to two charges of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty when he appeared at Preston Crown Court.

He was given a 42-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months. Issat must also complete 100 hours community service and pay £750 court costs.

Speaking after the case, a HMRC spokesman said: “This was the third time illegal tobacco products had been found in Issat’s shop.

“The estimated excise duty evasion for the previous seizures was £1,020 and £2,100.”

Customs officials have enjoyed a number of successful prosecutions for fake cigarette rackets recently.

Four men from Blackburn, Oswaldtwistle, Darwen and Clayton-le-Moors were jailed for 12-and-a-half years last May for their roles in a conspiracy which saw duty totalling £16.5million evaded between 2010 and 2014.

The gang was caught after transactions were found in two notebooks.

To report suspected illicit tobacco call 0800 788 887 or visit www.hmrc.gov.uk/reportingfraud/online.