“Sophisticated” fuel laundering plant dismantled

February 4, 2013

By Christine Keighery

One of the most sophisticated diesel laundering operations ever uncovered in Northern Ireland was dismantled last week near Jonesborough.

Justice Minister and chair of the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF), David Ford, accompanied customs and police officers during the raid last Wednesday morning, which saw more than 14 tonnes of toxic waste being removed from the underground plant, which was discovered in a purpose built industrial unit in Kilnasaggart.

A search of the unit uncovered laundering equipment and a petrol tanker leading to two huge underground tanks capable of producing 25 million litres of illicit fuel and evading over £18m in taxes and duty a year.

Mr Ford commended the HMRC and PSNI officers on discovering the plant, hailing the successful raid as proof of the important role that the OCTF has in “defeating crime and protecting our community.”

“It is important that operations like this are detected and shut down” he said, before urging members of the public who are aware of any suspicious activity to report it to the appropriate authorities.

Senior customs officer, John Whiting, described the level of sophistication used in building the plant as “astounding” and said it appeared that the premises had been built solely for the purposes of laundering fuel with the underground tanks installed at the time it was built.

Condemning the contamination risk posed by the plant and similar illegal laundering operations, Mr Whiting also called for tougher jail sentences for the perpetrators of such activities, after revealing that no-one had been imprisoned for fuel laundering in the last decade.

The Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, maintains that actual jail time would be a “disincentive” to fuel smugglers and said the issue had been raised with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee as “a matter of concern.”

“There are a number of discussions taking place,” he said,

“We are aware that the Lord Chief Justice has prepared some sentencing guidelines. We are also engaged with the Department of Justice in a review of comparative sentencing with England and Wales compared to Northern Ireland.

“One of the things that we have been concerned about is that we have no right of appeal in respect of unduly lenient sentences. The Department of Justice is consulting about a new piece of legislation on that issue.”

“They are being sentenced, but with suspended sentences. They are getting imprisonment but it is suspended.

“In England and Wales the sentence is actually custodial, people are going to jail, clearly there is a disincentive to the crime if you are going to have your liberty removed and that disincentive has not existed in Northern Ireland.”

Investigations into the Jonesborough plant are continuing.