Fugitive fraudster who made millions smuggling raw tobacco into Preston has been jailed

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A fugitive tax fraudster who made millions from an illegal tobacco factory in Preston has been jailed for eight years.

Robert Zduniak was part of an organised gang that processed smuggled raw tobacco into illegal factories in Preston, Blackburn, Bury and Essex.

Robert Zduniak, 43, was part of an organised gang that processed smuggled raw tobacco in illegal factories in Preston, Blackburn, Bury and Essex.

Robert Zduniak, 43, was part of an organised gang that processed smuggled raw tobacco in illegal factories in Preston, Blackburn, Bury and Essex.

The 43-year-old Polish national had been living at addresses in Blackburn and Bury whilst running the illegal tobacco farms.

Zduniak fled during his trial at Manchester Crown Court in May 2017, where he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for 'conspiracy to Cheat the Revenue'.

But HMRC officers continued with their efforts to trace him and finally tracked him down to his Prague hideaway in the Czech Republic.

Zduniak was brought back to the UK three days after Christmas and is now behind bars serving an eight-year sentence.

On Thursday, January 3, he appeared at Manchester Crown Court where his sentence was confirmed.

Tony Capon, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“A new year and a new start for Zduniak – behind bars. He’ll have plenty of time to carefully consider any resolutions he wants to make.

“This is another demonstration that HMRC will relentlessly pursue criminals who try to cheat and evade justice.

"Zduniak must have thought he was free and clear, but we’ve brought him back to face justice.”

Zduniak, from Katowice in Poland, was part of a criminal network that used sites in the North West, with the largest tobacco farm at an address in Preston, where he produced illegal tobacco products to try and evade Excise Duty and VAT.

He was found to be involved in the importation, transporting and processing of the raw tobacco.

HMRC investigations led to tobacco being seized in Preston in 2013, followed by more seizures of tobacco and manufacturing equipment the following year in Bury, Greater Manchester; Blackburn, Lancashire; and Halsted, Essex.

In April 2014, HMRC raided a farm in Essex, as well as four premises near Bury and another in Blackburn. Officers seized around three tonnes of raw tobacco that was being converted into counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco (HRT), £15,000 in cash, chemicals, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery.

HMRC investigators found the gang smuggled more than 100 tonnes of raw tobacco into the UK from the Czech Republic over 15 months by deliberately mislabelling it as furniture. If converted into counterfeit HRT it would have been worth £17 million in tax evaded.

Zduniak’s co-conspirators, Hubert Jankowski, and Lukasz Pawelec, were each jailed for four years in May 2017. Pawelec had also tried to flee but was caught at Doncaster Airport and remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial.