Halifax shop owner jailed after police operation tackling pirated computer games

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A police crackdown on pirated computer games and stolen mobile phones has led to a Halifax shop owner being jailed.

When officers raided Bilal Munir’s Halifax Games in Halifax Borough Market in January 2011, they seized a Dell laptop containing more than 800 illegally downloaded Nintendo games along with other items including a memory card reader with a further 289 games on it.

Officers also searched Mobile Phone Service Centre in Southgate and found seven illegal devices, known as R4 cartridges, which could be used to play pirated games on Nintendo DS consoles.

During a trial at Bradford Crown Court, a jury heard that the mobile phone shop was run by Munir’s cousin, Navid Akhtar, and Akhtar’s younger brother Umar Shahzad worked in the shop.

Prosecutor Jonathan Sharp said undercover police officers posing as criminals had visited the phone shop in July and September 2010.

Despite being told by the officers that a mobile phone and a Nintendo Wii console were stolen, Shahzad paid cash for them.

In reference to the Dell laptop, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC said: “It was the source of a stock of approximately a thousand illegal games which were being used or had been used. That gives some idea of the true scale and the true culpability.”

The judge concluded that Munir was enabling those who bought the illegal devices from the phone shop to play at their leisure and cheaply illegally downloaded Nintendo games.

Judge Durham Hall said Akhtar, as owner of the Mobile Phone Service Centre, deliberately and knowingly possessed the devices with a view to their imminent supply to anybody who required them.

The jury heard that the computer seized at Halifax Games had on it an advert of illegal copies of games and artwork for DS games and the illegal R4 devices.

Munir, 30, of Roils Head Road, Halifax, was jailed for 15 months after he was found guilty by the jury of possessing an article - the Dell laptop - for use in copying trademarks.

The judge said the sentence would have been 18 months, but he had reduced it to take account of recent charitable work that Munir had been involved with close to the war zone in Syria

Munir was allowed to address the court himself before being sentenced and said he wanted to apologise for the offending and the time and money wasted in his case.

Akhtar, 28, of Godfrey Road, Halifax, pleaded guilty to possession of the seven R4 cartridges used to circumvent the Nintendo copyright systems, but his eight-month jail term was suspended for a year because his guilty plea.

The court heard that police seized almost £29,000 in cash during the investigation and Akhtar had agreed to forfeit £15,000. He will also have to do 120 hours unpaid work for the community.

Munir will have to face a further hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act at a later date.

Shahzad, 26, of Essex Street, Halifax, was found guilty after trial of attempting to handle the “stolen” items brought to the shop by undercover officers and possessing the illegal devices. He was jailed for a total of 15 months.

After the case, Judge Durham Hall commended the work of the undercover officers and the lead officer who dealt with the inquiry.

Detective Constable Tony Chapman, who led the investigation, said they had worked with West Yorkshire Trading Standards, The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment and Calderdale Council.

“The laptop computer and micro SD memory card seized from Munir’s stall at Halifax Games contained over 1,000 counterfeit Nintendo games titles. The loss to the gaming industry was significant. The R4 cartridges recovered enabled the counterfeit software titles to be played on hand held gaming devices,” he said.

“All three were involved in blatant criminal activity by selling counterfeit games to the public.

“We have worked with Calderdale Council to in order to maintain the excellent reputation of the markets in Halifax. Offences of this type will be investigated robustly with a view to those responsible being stripped of their criminal benefit.”

Calderdale Council’s cabinet member for Economy and environment, Councillor Barry Collins, added: “The council is committed to tackling criminal activity and selling quality goods, so that customers can shop, and legitimate dealers can trade, in safety and with confidence.”

Colin Gledhill, president of Halifax Borough Market Tenants Association, said: “Selling counterfeit and illegal goods is absolutely not tolerated and goes against everything the market stands for. The market is full of stallholders who are committed to trading fairly and are passionate about good customer service and quality local products.”