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Weekly Edition - Publication date:- 2017-02-06

-en Southport & Mersey Reporter

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3 men jailed in ₤17m tobacco fraud

3  men have been jailed for a total of 16 years for a ₤17 million Tax fraud after an illegal tobacco factory was discovered.   HM Revenue and Customs discovered that a Poland based criminal network used several sites in the North West and Essex to process raw tobacco into illegal tobacco products in an attempt to evade Excise Duty and VAT.

During the investigation, HMRC seized tobacco in:- Preston, Lancashire, in 2013 followed by arrests and more seizures of tobacco and manufacturing equipment the following year in:- Bury, Greater Manchester; Blackburn, Lancashire; and Halsted, Essex.  1 of the men, Robert Zduniak, fled during the trial, but was convicted and jailed for 8 years, in absence, at Manchester Crown Court, on Friday, 26 May 2017. His co-conspirators:- Hubert Jankowski, and Lukasz Pawelec, were each jailed for 4 years. Pawelec had also tried to flee, but was caught at Doncaster Airport and remanded for the remainder of the trial.

In April 2014, HMRC raided a farm in Essex, as well as 4 premises near Bury and another in Blackburn. They seized around 3 tonnes of raw tobacco that was in the process of being converted into counterfeit hand rolling tobacco (HRT), ₤15,000 in cash, chemicals, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery. The tobacco processing plant in Essex was dismantled immediately by HMRC.  HMRC linked the 2014 seizures and the jailed men to a further 8 tonnes of tobacco valued around ₤1.8 million in evaded duty and Tax that was seized in Preston in 2013.

Further enquiries by HMRC established that the gang had imported more than 100 tonnes of raw tobacco mislabelled as:- "furniture" into the UK, from the Czech Republic, over a 15 month period. If converted into counterfeit HRT this represents a potential Tax loss of ₤17 million.


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