A joint operation conducted in 23 EU member states, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and targeting organised crime groups involved in fuel fraud led to the arrest of 25 suspects thus far and the seizure of 2.2 million kg of illicit fuel, Europol said on Friday.
The large-scale, six month long operation involved 23 EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
Spokespeople for the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) told BNS on Friday that while Estonia participated in exposing the illegal acts, no arrests were made in Estonia in the framework of this investigation.
The operation was supported by Europol experts who provided continuous analytical and operational expertise; the Customs Cooperation Working Party (CCWP) and World Customs Organization (WCO) likewise supported the initiative.
So that the fuel would not be subject to excise regime once on the market, the criminals involved produced a mixture of primarily gas oil and other added compounds to modify the final physical features of the product. As a result,t he final product illegally sold on the black market was particularly attractive due to the much lower price and allowed criminals to make huge profits.
Customs and police intervention took place across Europe over a period of six months and concluded in July.
Excellent international cooperation created a detailed intelligence picture of the modus operandi, routes, types of products and economic operators involved in the fraud. The actions also revealed illegal unloading premises and supply chains, and resulted in the seizure of over 2.2 million kg of illicit fuel, 400,000 kg of other products, such as base oils and additives, and, thanks to the linked financial investigations, confiscation of various assets such as 109 vehicles, 19 estate properties, cash and bank accounts worth over €3 million. Criminal investigations and tax audits have been launched in almost all EU member states involved in the operation, Europol said.
The EU's law enforcement agency added a warning that such fuel can cause damage to vehicles' engines and can consequently be a risk to consumer health and safety.
Editor: Aili Vahtla