A MAN has been sentenced after he was caught with illegal cigarettes and tobacco during a crackdown.

Siraj Bawla, 51, of Oswald Street, Blackburn, had 3,260 non duty paid cigarettes and 1.65 kg of hand-rolling tobacco, worth an estimated £1,345 in evaded duty, in his car when it was searched by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers.

This included seven different brands of cigarettes and a mixture of Golden Virginia and Amber Leaf tobacco.

Bawla initially told investigators he bought the cigarettes and tobacco from a market in Clitheroe and they were for his own use.

He said he knew it was wrong to buy illicit cigarettes.

Bawla pleaded guilty to selling non duty paid tobacco products and was ordered to pay a £130 fine, costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £30 at Blackburn Magistrates Court on Thursday.

The search of Bawla’s car was part of a wider exercise across Lancashire to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco.

More than 40 retail premises were visited on the same day, with a total of 17,500 illicit cigarettes and 2.85kg of hand-rolling tobacco seized.

A HMRC spokesman said the illegal tobacco trade deprives public services of money that could be spent on schools and hospitals.

The spokesman said:: “Bawla thought he could make easy money, all the while knowing what he was doing was illegal.

“The illegal tobacco trade deprives our public services of money that could be spent on schools and hospitals. We ask anyone with information about suspected tax fraud to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Cllr Suleman Khonat, who represents Shear Brow and Corporation Park on Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “First of all people need to realise anything of this nature is evading tax which is totally unacceptable.

“People should make sure they buy legitimate products from newsagents and the corner shop.

“This is a message to all those who are doing this that there is no place to hide.”

Information about any type of tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at https://www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business