Fugitive fraudster brought back to UK after being tracked down in Prague
- Credit: Archant
A £17million tax fraudster who fled the country during his trial has been brought back to the UK to serve his jail term after being tracked down in Prague.
Robert Zduniak, 43, was part of an organised gang that processed smuggled raw tobacco in illegal factories in Halstead, Essex, and several locations in the north of England, a HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation revealed.
Zduniak, who had been living at addresses in Blackburn and Bury, left the UK during his trial but was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
HMRC officers tracked him down to a hideaway in the Czech Republic, and he was extradited three days after Christmas.
Zduniak, from Katowice in Poland, was part of a criminal network that used sites in Essex and the north-west of England to produce illegal tobacco products to try and evade excise duty and VAT.
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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.
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A farm in Halstead was raided in April 2014, 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.
Tony Capon, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at 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.”
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 also tried to flee the country but was caught at Doncaster Airport and remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial.