A man sentenced to five years in jail for his part in setting up an illegal tobacco factory has gone on the run.

Mbarak Gowie failed to turn up for trial, and a bench warrant has been issued for his arrest. He was found guilty of evading nearly £500,000 in duty and tax in his absence.

The factory was capable of manufacturing tonnes of illicit shisha tobacco.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) criminal investigators uncovered the plot after officers intercepted a consignment of 4,904kgs of tobacco leaf from Pakistan. They then raided Gowie’s home and a shisha lounge in North West London.

In six months, he had arranged the importation of six tonnes of raw leaf tobacco and 312kgs of flavouring.

Paul Barton, assistant director of criminal investigation for 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.”

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gowie is urged to call the 24-hour Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.