19 searches carried out in illegal fuel investigation
Hundreds of gardaí and officials raid homes and businesses in bid to seize criminal assets
Hundreds of offcials and garda personnel were involved in this morning’s searches in an investigation into the illegal fuel trade.
In the largest co-ordinated search of its kind in the history of the State, the gardai, PSNI and customs officers from both sides of the border swopped on 19 locations including forecourts and houses, all linked to a large-scale fuel fraud operation costing the exchequer millions of Euro a year.
Operation Loft, began just after 5am and was led by gardai from the Criminal Assets Bureau, with significant armed and aerial support, who are investigating the large scale evasion of taxes by a criminal gang based in north Louth.
The operation involved 200 personnel in the Republic and 100 in the North.
The gang, whose members are all known to the gardai and customs, have built up an elaborate fuel laundering business that stretches around the country; some fuel forecourts were also searched as part of the operation.
By lunchtime a premises which straddles the Louth/Armagh border had been searched as had an associated diesel laundering plant at Drumakill near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. It was capable of “washing” 10 million litres a year with a subsequent loss to the exchequer of ¤5.5 million.
About 40,000 litres of laundered fuel was found as well as bleaching earth which is used to remove the marker that signifies the fuel is only for agricultural and off-road use. There were no arrests made but significant quantities of cash were seized as well as paperwork, laptops and hard drives as well as other items which will be forensically examined to build up an investigation file with a view to prosecution.
“This was a big one for us. The people behind this have built up an elaborate network of places where they launder the fuel and then they have tankers that bring it to forecourts where it is sold around the country,” said one well-placed source.
“The places that sell this washed fuel appear legitimate and this was about finding the paper work to find the money and also to seize the computers. We believe we know who the men are masterminding this and we now have some of the Old Kids on the Block teaching the younger generation how it is done and we want to stop that,” added the source.
The gang buys the fuel with a coloured dye in it that indicates it is not for sale as white or regular auto-diesel. The dye also means that it was sold to them at a lower price because it incurs lower excise duties.
However the gang is then washing the marker from the diesel and selling it as if it was fully taxed and legitimate auto-diesel. There is a significant profit for them and an equally significant loss to the exchequer.
Fuel laundering was traditionally a source of funding for the Provisional IRA and is now a significant source of income for criminal gangs in the border region.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs confirmed it had searched three private and commercial premises in south Armagh.