Suspect in €29 million VAT fraud arrested by gardaí in Co Louth

Vat claimed for non-existent goods bought and sold between jurisdictions

A man suspected of central involvement in a VAT fraud valued at €29 million has been questioned by gardaí after his arrest in Co Louth.

The suspect was detained on Thursday by detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) at Dundalk Garda station under Section 50 Criminal Justice Act 2007. He has now been released without charge pending further investigations.

The latest arrest is the third in a two-year criminal investigation into a suspected €29 million cross-border VAT fraud.

Gardaí believe the latest suspect to be detained, who is based in Northern Ireland but who has business interests south of the border in Co Louth, is the mastermind of the scam, which is based on VAT carousel fraud.

It has involved the claimed movement, purchase and sale of goods between different companies in the North and Republic for a number of years.

The criminal profits arise when those involved apply for VAT refunds on the so-called goods bought and sold between jurisdictions despite the fact no VAT was ever paid and in most cases the goods never existed.

A man in his 50s was arrested in August and released without charge after questioning in Co Roscommon.

His arrest came three months after a woman in her 40s was arrested under the same provisions. She was released without charge after questioning.

The inquiry into the VAT-based fraud has been ongoing since 2017. In September of that year 15 commercial and residential properties were searched across the four provinces, with the co-operation of the PSNI in the North.

Transfers of money between bank accounts in Ireland and to banks in other jurisdictions were reviewed.

At that point the inquiry, which is being led by the GNECB, seized a large volume of digital and hard copy records.

Since then transfers of money between bank accounts in Ireland and to banks in other jurisdictions were reviewed on suspicion they were linked to the VAT carousel fraud.

Gardaí are working on the theory the man who lives in the North and has interests in Co Louth is effectively the principal of an organised crime gang that has run the fraud and controlled the bank accounts.

The investigation is being carried out by the GNECB, supported by the Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, Revenue, the PSNI and the British National Crime Agency and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Agency.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times