Illegal fuel plant found after raid by Customs
A fuel laundering plant with the capacity to produce more than two million litres of illicit diesel annually and evade £1.3m in excise duty has been uncovered by Customs inspectors in Co Down.
Revenue and Customs officers and police raided a farm in Banbridge yesterday morning, seizing 6,000 litres of fuel and a commercial vehicle while dismantling the laundering equipment on site.
A 63-year-old man was arrested and released on bail.
It is estimated that the plant could have produced 6,000 litres of illegally laundered fuel a day, or more than two million litres a year, a spokesman for HMRC said.
According to Customs, the fuel was green diesel, a marked fuel used for agricultural machinery in the Republic. It is the equivalent of red diesel in the UK.
It is believed the fuel was smuggled across the border to be sold in Northern Ireland.
John Whiting, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: "Fuel laundering is dangerous in every way - and those involved show complete disregard for anything other than profit.
"There is a risk to other road users from the transport of laundered fuel, as the vehicles used to do so are often unsafe.
"There is also damage to the environment, as the by-products from the laundering process can cause devastation and leave the public with a hefty clean-up bill.
"Illicit fuel also damages engines and undercuts honest businesses."
Avril Clydesdale of HMRC said the laundering of green diesel was on the rise in Northern Ireland.
"We have a scheme that controls the sale of red diesel here - registered dealers and anyone who sells it has to register with us. But we have found more recently, including a lot more green diesel," she said.
She added that fuel laundering was responsible for funding more serious crime as well as costing the Exchequer millions of pounds in lost duty payments.
"A lot of this fraud - the profit can go on to fund more serious criminality. It's not just about cheap fuel.
"Ordinary diesel carries lubricants and the laundering process takes those out.
"There's a high risk that those taken out with acid can cause serious damage to engines."
Red diesel, or green diesel in the Republic, is used by agricultural workers and in Northern Ireland has a much lower cost per litre, averaging around 69p compared with 138p for standard diesel at the pumps. Around £160m is lost in duty payments between illegal fuel laundering and those legally purchasing fuel from the Republic each year.