12 gangs dominate illicit fuel laundering costing exchequer €2.3bn

There are 10 to 12 major criminal gangs controlling the lucrative fuel laundering trade on both sides of the border, according to a report.

While the scale of seizures of laundered fuel has reduced in recent years, they rose again last year.

A study published yesterday also reports that former paramilitaries are heavily involved in cigarette smuggling, and that gangs are using Irish ports to get tobacco into both the North and Britain.

The report, conducted by Grant Thornton on behalf of affected industries, also records a dramatic increase in the number of illicit alcohol seizures.

Overall, it estimates the total cost of illicit trades in Ireland is in the region of €2.345bn, with €1.56bn suffered by industry and €788m lost by the exchequer.

Broken down by sector, it estimates the following values lost:

  • Alcohol: €655m (€491m by industry and €165m by the exchequer);
  • Tobacco: €450m (€253m and €197m);
  • Fuel laundering: €435m (€196m and €239m);
  • Digital: €390m (€320m and €70m).

In addition, the report estimates a cost to the pharmaceutical industry of up to €3bn from counterfeit products.

On fuel laundering, the report said: “According to Revenue and Customs, there are circa 10 or 12 main gangs that continue to launder fuel both north and south of the border.”

It cites Revenue figures that show a dramatic reduction in commercial seizures of marked mineral oil, from 88 in 2011 to 32 in 2014, with quantities seized dropping from 718,000 litres to 150,800 litres.

Separate figures from Revenue, published last week in their annual report, show that the number of commercial seizures rose to 47 in 2015 and quantities seized to 215,000.

In addition, there were 310 convictions, compared to 283 in 2014; and 218 in 2011.

The number of fuel-laundering plants detected has fallen away, from nine in 20011, to two in 2014 and to zero last year.

The report said a number of developments have taken place here, in the Republic, including a new colourless diesel marker, introduced in April 2015, to help identify those dealing in illicit fuel.

The Revenue report estimates its initiatives, including the marker, has resulted in an additional €200m in taxes and duties to the State.

Grant Thornton said that according to Interpol, cigarette smuggling is “one of the main sources of funding for former paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland and Ireland”, and that the open border facilitates the criminality.

And citing a report by Italian research agency Transcrime, it said: “In addition to using Irish airports, smugglers use Irish ports as a back door for introducing the illegal product into Northern Ireland and the UK, because it is more difficult to bring them through Belfast Port.”

The value of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco fell from €76m in 2011 to €30m in 2014, but rose to €35.5m last year.

Grant Thornton report that the number of alcohol seizures doubled from 275 in 2011 to 550 in 2014. Revenue figures show it jumped last year to 938 with some 45,800 litres seized.


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