FLASHY cars, Swiss bank accounts and an airplane led to the arrest of a bevy of farmers accused of selling their soft fruit and veg on the black market and leading to an EU-wide search for accomplices.
The year-long investigation in eight countries so far has resulted in millions of euro, several properties, computers, cars and even an airplane being seized.
It began in the Netherlands where Dutch tax authorities became suspicious of several farmers driving around in expensive new cars with Luxembourg number plates.
“We are used to seeing executives from big companies like Shell and BP driving in leased cars from Luxembourg because their companies are based there, but not farmers,” said Joannes Thuy from Eurojust.
Nine Dutch farmers have been arrested so far charged with money laundering tens of millions of euro, setting up an operation to cheat their country of VAT and tax, and employing workers illegally.
They were all major growers of strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, mushrooms and other fruits and vegetables.
On paper they sold their harvest to a fictitious company that provided them with VAT receipts that they then reclaimed from the state.
An intermediary, who is not a farmer, ran this company. Police believe this person also provided Poles to work on their farms, harvesting the produce.
“There were no social welfare payments being made for these workers so they were not insured and if they had been involved in accidents or illness they would have been alone,” said Mr Thuy.
In reality the farmers sold the fruit and vegetables on the black market and pocketed the money. But to avoid it being detected by the tax authorities they “money laundered” it by using banks in other countries including Switzerland, Luxembourg and Cyprus.
The investigation has spread to Poland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark, France and Switzerland. It has involved 225 crime investigation teams, tax inspectors and national police.
So far arrests have only been made in Holland.
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