A man who tried to set up an illegal tobacco factory capable of manufacturing tonnes of illicit shisha tobacco, has been sentenced to five years in jail. Mbarak Gowie, from Wembley, was convicted in his absence, for evading nearly £500,000 in duty and tax. Gowie failed to turn up last week during the trial and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) criminal investigators uncovered the plot after officers intercepted a consignment of 4,904kgs of tobacco leaf that had arrived from Pakistan in 2011.

Officers raided the Middlesex home of Gowie and a Lebanese café (shisha lounge) in north-west London. Investigations identified further importations and purchases of ingredients required to manufacture shisha tobacco. Gowie had never applied for a licence to manufacture or store shisha tobacco.

Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “This was a criminal enterprise on a huge scale, capable of producing large amounts of unregulated shisha and fruit flavoured tobacco.

“It would have lined the pockets of these men, at the expense of local shopkeepers, stealing income from the local economy. We all have to pay our dues and this sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime.”