Crime and punishment

The number of operators selling washed diesel and taking business from legitimate dealers continues to affect the industry

The low rate of convictions in Northern Ireland was recently raised by politician and TUV leader Jim Allister, where there have been just 17 convictions in the last four years, with little or no fines and prison sentencing imposed.

“This gives out all the wrong signals to the perpetrators,” said a Craigavon-based distributor. “Laundering fuel is the equivalent of stealing, and it damages vehicles, so it should carry a heavy penalty. As soon as one place is closed down, within a short time the same operators are carrying on regardless from a different, albeit close location.” The distributor, who wished to remain anonymous, was unaware that penalties were so low.

At the Northern Ireland Oil Federation, the message is clear. “If there’s known fuel abuse in an area, it impacts on business. It’s in everyone’s interest to report it and tackle the situation. After all, this fuel abuse is a real threat to legitimate business and damages the industry’s reputation.”

The need to keep one step ahead with a more robust fuel marker

Most recently published figures by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) indicate that within the last year, officers dismantled 24 laundering plants and arrested 7 individuals for fuel fraud offences.

“We’re not complacent and appreciate the need to keep one step ahead of fuel launderers,” commented an HMRC spokesperson. “Consequently, the search for an even more robust marker capable of foiling 21st century fuel launderers is essential to ensure that opportunities for fraudsters to exploit fuel supplies are reduced and illicit fuel can be detected.”

In a joint initiative between the Republic of Ireland and the UK submissions for a new fuel marker suitable for use in both jurisdictions have been invited.

“HMRC is responsible for investigating suspected excise fraud and reporting cases to the public prosecution service. When we detect those engaged in the illicit supply chain or commercial scale misuse of fuel, we also have a range of sanctions at our disposal. These range from seizure of assets, civil recovery of taxes evaded to prosecution. Sentencing is a matter for the judiciary; a review of which is being carried out by the lord chief justice.”