Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Putting the brakes on fuel laundering

The BBC Panorama report on fuel laundering shows the widespread criminality which is involved, but it also reveals the willingness of so many people to take advantage of such malpractice.

The price of fuel in Northern Ireland is constantly higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, which in turn is among the highest in Europe.

Consequently the cost of motoring here has increased rapidly to the point where, for some people, it is prohibitive. It is understandable therefore, that motorists are looking closely at their own costs and shopping around in order to reduce their outlay.

There is nothing wrong with doing this, but in a search to keep costs down it is clearly wrong for drivers to buy fuel at greatly reduced prices without giving any thought about why such fuel is so cheap, and who is behind such an operation.

The Panorama programme made it clear that it is criminals who are raking off vast profits to extend their nefarious operations which are not confined to Northern Ireland.

The situation is so bad that some former paramilitaries are putting aside their past enmities to share vast profits from the fuel laundering business and are always trying new ways to enrich themselves at a cost to the tax-payer.

Every litre of fuel sold at "bargain" prices, means that the revenue is not going to the government, with the result that huge sums in tax are being lost each year.

For example the authorities uncovered an extensive fuel laundering plant in south Armagh earlier this year with an annual output of 30 million litres of illegal fuel, which is the equivalent of £20m in lost taxes.

Just think of how this kind of money could be spent on health, housing, education and other crucial services for the wider community.

People who buy cheap fuel from shady operators know that there must be a reason why such bargains are available, and one of the best ways of stamping out such widespread criminality is simply by driving past dubious-looking pumps on dodgy sites.

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