Press release -
Three men jailed in £17m tobacco fraud
Three 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.
One of the men, Robert Zduniak, fled during the trial but was convicted and jailed for eight years in absence at Manchester Crown Court on Friday. His co-conspirators, Hubert Jankowski, and Lukasz Pawelec, were each jailed for four 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 four premises near Bury and another in Blackburn. They seized around three 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 eight 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.
Notes to Editors
1.Robert Zduniak , dob 26/09/75, unemployed of Gloucester Road, Blackburn, Lancashire was found guilty on 26 May of conspiracy to Cheat the Revenue, contrary to Common Law. He had absconded mid trial in May and was sentenced to eight years jail in absence. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. At the time of his arrest in 2014, he lived in Bury, Manchester.
2.Hubert Sebastian Jankowski, dob 23/10/79, unemployed, of Gigg Lane, Bury, Manchester, pleaded guilty on 16 January 2017 to conspiracy to Cheat the Revenue, contrary to Common Law. He was sentenced to four years jail.
3.Lukasz Pawelec, dob 19/03/85, a joiner by trade, of Dorothy Boot Home, Main Road, Nottingham, was found guilty on 26 May 2017 of conspiracy to Cheat the Revenue, contrary to Common Law. He attempted to abscond mid trial in May but was caught at Doncaster airport and remanded into custody for the remainder of the trial. He was sentenced to four years jail on 26 May 2017. At the time of his arrest in 2014, he lived in Blackburn, Lancashire.
4.Details of seizures in this HMRC investigation:
- Wednesday 23 April 2014, extensive manufacturing plant equipment was seized at a farm in Halstead, Essex.
- Thursday 2 April 2014, three tonnes of tobacco, plant equipment, £15,000 cash and counterfeit packaging were seized in the Wash Lane area of Bury, Greater Manchester. This discovery triggered a series of further arrests and searches in Bury and the Blackburn areas. Approximately 25,000 counterfeit HRT pouches, chemicals used to treat tobacco, commercial weighing scales, cellophane wrapping machinery and the van used to transport the goods were also seized.
- In November 2013, eight tonnes of raw tobacco was also seized in the Preston area of Lancashire.
5.The seized cash was forfeited to the Crown under Proceeds of Crime powers at a hearing on 15 January 2016 at Trafford Magistrates Court.
6.The estimated loss to the Exchequer is around £17 million in unpaid duty and VAT based on the seizures and time frame the fraud gang operated.
7.All businesses and individuals who carry out any activity involving raw tobacco now need to have an approval for the Raw Tobacco Approval Scheme, unless an exemption applies. Failure to have an approval in place, may result in the raw tobacco being seized and a penalty issued.
8.Follow HMRC Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice
9.HMRC's Flickr channel: www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk
Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.
HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.