Hundreds of jobs are being lost and the State is losing huge sums in revenue due to the continued growth in the trading of illicit fuel, according to Mayo Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony, who raised the issue in the Dáil this week. Deputy O’Mahony, who said he is aware that the illicit trade of fuel is widespread throughout the country, added that he understood that one of the illicit trade operations that was uncovered had the capacity to launder up to 18 million litres per annum, with a loss to the State of €9 million.
“Fuel smuggling and fuel laundering has been a problem here for many years but since the beginning of this year in particular when the sulphur content in off-road diesel was reduced, which made it much more difficult to detect illegal fuel, it has reached epidemic proportions. The extent of the problem was illustrated when one of the fuel laundering operations uncovered this year was believed to be making a profit of €100,000 per week. Between 2005 and 2011 I understand nine illegal operations were uncovered. Up to June this year five were uncovered and I believe there have been more uncovered since then,” he said.
He added that the illicit fuel was being sold in service stations that were rented on short-term leases. With a duty difference of almost 40 cent per litre, he said that up to €15,000 per tanker was being made by the illegal operatives. “These operations have been taken over essentially by criminal elements that have moved from the drugs trade or other criminal undertakings but the effects on the people who are upholding the law, paying their taxes and giving employment is that hundreds of jobs are being lost in the legitimate industry as a result of this activity,” he said.
He pointed out that a detection method, whereby a DNA tracer be put in place; and an audit trail to find out where the fuel was being bought and to whom it was sold would help get to the bottom of this problem.
He said that in regard to fines and penalties, an issue arose this year where a garage was closed for one day and fined €3,000. “However, if these people are making €14,000 a tanker that is not a very punitive sentence,” he said.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes said there was ongoing extensive enforcement action, which has led to the detection of oil laundries and the prosecution of individuals and companies involved. Already in 2011, eight laundries have been detected and more than 300,000 litres of laundered fuel have been seized. There have been 11 arrests resulting from these operations, and eight tankers and 19 other vehicles have been seized. Several retailers and haulage companies have also been implicated.
Dep O'Mahony said that while the work by the Revenue and Custom Services was to be commended, he said it was also possible that because the illicit trade was now at epidemic level that they were only scratching the surface.