Hidden in a shed on border farmland: the biggest illegal fuel factory in the UK
A massive south Armagh diesel laundering plant was capable of producing enough fuel every year to take a car to the Moon and back 40 times, it has emerged.
Customs officials said the plant — the largest fuel laundering operation ever uncovered in the UK — was fraud on an industrial scale.
The operation in a dilapidated shed at Crossmaglen could have produced over 30m litres of illicit fuel a year, costing the taxpayer around £20m in lost revenue.
Police and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers uncovered the plant on Tuesday morning when they searched agricultural buildings, however details of the raid were only made public yesterday.
A man arrested in connection with the find has been released on bail pending further inquiries.
Clare Merrills from HMRC said the illicit operation was three times larger than any other plant found in the UK.
She added: “This particular site was capable of producing enough fuel to take a family saloon car to the Moon and back over 40 times a year.
“This was a huge plant that we have closed down, but it's just one of a number we have found in recent months.”
Officials seized six large fuel storage tanks, 37,000 litres of illicit fuel, 1,000 litres of acid, pumps and associated equipment.
Almost 21,000 litres of toxic waste, stored in barrels and in an underground slurry pit, were also removed from the site.
John Whiting, assistant director of criminal investigation with HMRC, said it was fuel fraud on an industrial scale.
“The sheer size of this illegal operation is staggering and far exceeds anything we have ever come across before,” he said.
“This activity would have generated massive revenue loss as well as tonnes of toxic waste — it’s economic and environmental impact on Northern Ireland would have been considerable.”
He said the location of the illegal operation suggested the fuel was destined for both sides of the border, resulting in losses to both the UK and Republic of Ireland exchequers.
He added: “This operation shows the success of multi-agency co-operation in tackling fuel fraud and why we will continue to work with our partners, as part of the Organised Crime Task Force, in the fight against organised crime.”
The Customs operation was welcomed by Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin.
“Every pound lost to the Treasury because of fuel laundering is a pound less for schools, roads, hospitals and other essential public services,” he said.
“Those engaged in the activity are unscrupulous criminals driven by nothing more than a desire to steal money regardless of the consequences of their actions — both for public services and the environment.”background Laundered fuel is red or green diesel which has been filtered through chemicals or acids to remove the Government marker. The chemicals and acids remain in the fuel and damage fuel pumps in diesel cars. Red diesel is marked gas oil or a rebated fuel for use in agricultural machinery and not for use in road vehicles. Green diesel is the Republic of Ireland equivalent of the UK's red diesel. Fuel fraud allows criminals to escape taxes and sell the fuel cheaply.