Digital Black Market: Banbury Duo’s Illicit Facebook Cigarette Sales Expose Tech’s Dark Underbelly

Banbury Couple Admit Illegal Facebook Cigarette Sales

Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards team has issued a warning about the sale of illegal tobacco on social media sites, such as Facebook. The warning comes after a Banbury husband and wife were prosecuted at Oxford Magistrates’ Court following a raid at their home address. The raid resulted in the seizure of over 44,000 illicit cigarettes and 24.5 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco, making it the largest seizure ever made by the local authority. The street value of the seized items was estimated at £20,000.

Krzysztof Bugno, 42, and Ewelina Bugno, 41, both pleaded guilty to eight charges, including being knowingly involved in the fraudulent evasion of duty. The court heard that an undercover operative had purchased 10 packets of L & M cigarettes for £60 after responding to an advert on Facebook. The operative was directed to the Bugno’s home address, where Ewelina was recorded on a covert camera making the sale. A follow-up operation led to the purchase of 10 more packets from Krzysztof, resulting in a warrant to enter the property. During the search, illicit tobacco was found in the lounge, master bedroom, and loft.

Mobile phones were seized from the suspects, and experts from the National Trading Standards E-crime Unit were called in to access Mr. Bugno’s phone. The phone revealed substantial evidence of illegal trading between June 2019 and October 2021, with the prosecution alleging that at least £40,000 in duty was evaded during this period.

The case has been adjourned to the Crown Court for sentencing on 30 November. Oxfordshire’s trading standards team, in collaboration with Thames Valley Police and other agencies, is committed to cracking down on the sale of illegal tobacco. They encourage the public to report any suspicious activity using the illegal tobacco hotline.

Tobacco fraud costs the UK approximately £2 billion per year, while treating smoking-related illnesses costs the NHS a similar amount annually. Individuals with information about the illegal sale of tobacco are urged to contact the illegal tobacco hotline or report it anonymously online.

For individuals looking to quit smoking, free stop smoking services like Stop for Life Oxfordshire are available and have been shown to triple the likelihood of successful quitting.