Belfast Telegraph

Irish border illegal fuel gangsterism ‘is now out of control’

UUP MLA claims authorities have failed

By Deborah McAleese

Fuel laundering gangsters are operating with impunity due to the ineffectiveness of the Government body tasked with tackling them, it has been claimed.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been accused of failing to clamp down effectively on fuel laundering after it emerged that 109 illicit plants were uncovered over the past four years - but only 28 people have been convicted for related crimes.

Of those convicted, just eight people received a custodial sentence, some of which were suspended, according to information provided to the Assembly by Justice Minister David Ford.

"We clearly have a situation that is out of control. HMRC has not been taking this seriously enough. They have been ineffective in bringing this under control. There are people out there making millions out of this and are free to do what they want," said Policing Board member Ross Hussey.

The UUP MLA added: "The conviction and custodial rates are also ridiculous. They clearly are unable to get to the top guys. They are only getting the foot soldiers. This is a very worrying situation."

Mr Hussey said he was very concerned by the environmental damage these plants caused and the massive cost of the clean-up operations. In July four tonnes of toxic waste - a by-product of the fuel laundering process - were removed by HMRC following the discovery of a plant in Co Armagh capable of producing almost 3.6 million litres of illegal diesel each year.

The plant could have cost the Exchequer as much as £2m a year in evaded taxes.

Mr Hussey said that the National Crime Agency was needed to crack down on the problem.

Justice Minister Mr Ford said: "With regards to cases not prosecuted, HMRC will always attempt to prosecute wherever evidence is available to support a criminal prosecution.

"Criminal prosecution only forms part of HMRC's approach to tackling oil fraud. "Other strategies include civil action (for example the seizure of fuel, pumps, vehicles and cash) combined with a strong regulatory control system and civil penalties regime."

Mr Hussey raised his concerns just days after republican fuel smugglers were blamed for pumping toxic waste linked to cancers and abnormalities in unborn babies straight into water supplies in the Republic and south Armagh.

The Sunday Independent obtained evidence of carcinogenic waste flowing from an illegal fuel plant in south Armagh into Lough Muckno, Lough Ross and the Fane River - which is the main reservoir for the whole of Dundalk.

A sample of water taken was shown to contain 8,000 times more chemical pollution than clean drinking water.

A sample taken from directly behind the plant, one of dozens used by paramilitary smugglers in south Armagh, is also 400 times over the maximum chemical content of waste set by the European Union and Irish Water.

The toxic waste is being pumped directly into a stream that feeds directly into the Fane drinking water system.

Around 40,000 people living in Dundalk, plus another 8,000 in Crossmaglen in south Armagh, are drinking water from the system that is being poisoned by the fuel launderers.

Chemicals in the pollution are almost certainly linked to cancers and prenatal disorders.

Factfile

HMRC has repeatedly warned motorists that the illegal diesel trade is fuelling organised crime. Fuel launderers evade taxes by removing dye from red diesel, which is cheaper than regular diesel and is intended only for off-road agricultural use. In an effort to combat the practice, a new dye, almost impossible to remove, is to be introduced in the UK and the Republic in April.

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