A TOBACCO fraudster who fled the country during his trial has been jailed for eight years after being tracked down to a hideout in Prague.

Robert Zduniak, pictured right, was part of a £17 million gang which made smuggled raw tobacco in illegal factories across the country, including one in Halstead, to try to evade tax.

During his trial last year, the 43-year-old Polish national was found to be involved in the importation, transporting and processing of the raw tobacco.

He left the country during his trial, but officers tracked him down to the Czech Republic and he was extradited on December 28.

Tony Capon, from 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.”

Investigations in 2013 led to tobacco being seized in Bury, in Greater Manchester as well as Preston and Blackburn.

Then, in 2014 officers raided a farm in Halstead, as well as other sites in Bury and Blackburn. In total, they seized around three tonnes of raw tobacco which was being converted into counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco as well as £15,000 in cash, chemicals, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery.

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 tobacco it would have been worth £17 million in tax evaded.

Zduniak’s was sentenced to eight years in his absence and appeared at Manchester Crown Court where it was confirmed.

His 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.