EU arrests 59 fuel fraudsters

Law enforcement authorities from 23 EU Member States struck a blow at organized crime groups involved in fuel fraud by arresting 59 individuals in a year-long operation.  The joint operation was supported by Europol, the EU law enforcement agency. Including the arrests, the operation also led to 5.2 million liters of designer fuel seized, worth around €6.8 million.

Fuel fraud involves the dilution, adulteration, or smuggling of fuels to exploit price arbitrage conditions in a market.  Fuel fraud is a growing phenomenon and typically involves base-oil fraud, also known as designer fuel fraud.  This type of fraud requires relevant expertise and is usually only available from trained chemists.  

Designer fuel is a mixed product, which in some cases is exempt from tax in the EU.  To avoid that the fuel is subject to excise regime once on the market, criminals produce a mixture of gas oil and other added compounds to modify the final physical features of the product, and they can sell it in the black market.

National highlights

Latvia: In May and June 2019, 22 cargo vessels were checked, three shipments and six vehicles were seized.  Three individuals were arrested by the Latvian Tax and Customs Police Department.

Italy: In October 2019, investigative work performed by the Italian Finance Corps (Guardia di Finanza) resulted in the apprehension of six individuals, the seizure of over 86,000 liters of designer fuel and 12 vehicles, and the dismantling of huge storage facilities in the province of Naples. 

Poland: In November 2019, the Polish Police conducted a large-scale joint operation in cooperation with the National Revenue Administration; preliminary analysis was performed in cooperation with Slovakia. 250 officers from police, customs and tax administration participated in the action. Perpetrators used intermediate bulk containers, from which they re-pumped designer fuels into tanks and subsequently sold them as fuel. There were more than 80 companies involved in the fraud and 14 people were arrested. 

Slovakia: 16,000 liters of illicit fuel, five vehicles, technical equipment and documents showing shipments of up to 348,000 liters of illicit oil were seized by the Financial Administration of the Slovak Republic. Following seven searches of houses and storage units, four members of an organized crime group were arrested. 

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