No convictions in Cross border crackdown on fuel laundering

March 18, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Areas of South Armagh and the Republic were under siege last Wednesday as more than three hundred personnel from the PSNI and An Garda Síochána conducted a major cross border operation focusing on fuel laundering and organised crime.

“Operation Loft”, as it was known, was led by the Irish Republic’s Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), with assistance from numerous agencies, including the Special Detective Unit of An Garda Síochána, as well as various uniformed Garda units throughout the country, the Regional Support Unit and Northern Region and Revenue Customs personnel.  In an unprecedented move, the operation was supported by the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the Garda Air Support Unit and the Air Corps.

Louth, Monaghan, Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Offaly, Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath and Tipperary were all targeted by the authorities.

Despite the massive scale of the operation, specialist teams from the PSNI and officers from HMRC seized just 35,000 litres during raids on three business and residential premises in Crossmaglen.

Officers removed fuel tanks and uplifted records after executing warrants to search the buildings as part of the investigation which has linked the plant to a County Louth crime gang.

A further 40,000 litres of fuel and 16,000 litres of toxic waste were found at an oil laundry in Castleblayney, which authorities said was capable of laundering 10million litres per year with a potential loss to the Exchequer of €5.5m.

A large quantity of cash was discovered at two properties in the Republic with business records and computers also seized for forensic examination. Meanwhile the CAB has also frozen more than 25 bank accounts thought to be linked to the operation.

The fact that an operation of this scale yielded no arrests has been the subject of much debate over recent days, with officials reiterating that investigations are on-going.

SDLP Newry and Armagh Assembly Member Dominic Bradley, welcomed the massive operation however, paying tribute to the professionalism shown by the Garda, PSNI and all involved agencies.

He also commented on a statement made by Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, calling for action against criminals involved in fuel laundering and expressing his concern about the lack of convictions following the numerous raids which took place.  Mr Bradley described Adam’s comments as “a significant shift in Sinn Féin’s attitude to those involved in this type of crime compared to previous statements from him and senior members of his party.”

He continued,

“Mr Adams must now ensure that his message is acted upon by those at all levels from leaders  through to TDs, MPs, MLAs, councillors, and individual members. It is not enough alone to condemn the dumping of diesel sludge. The message must go out in relation to fuel laundering with a clear directive that such activity should be reported to the police or the Gardaí.

“Criminality, whether it is diesel laundering, illegal cigarette or drink racketeering, must not be given political cover from any source whatsoever.  The PSNI, Gardaí, and the Customs services in both jurisdictions deserve the wholehearted support of all political parties in their fight against criminality and racketeering regardless of who is involved.”