Cross-border fuel laundering crackdown

26th February 2015

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has responded to the publication of a new report highlighting the considerable and ongoing problem of illicit cross-border fuel smuggling between Britain and Ireland.

Published by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA), the report has outlined the need for more serious penalties for individuals found to have imported illicit goods, including lengthy custodial sentences for offenders.

Criminal gangs have become a serious problem in the realm of cross-border fuel smuggling in recent years and Committee A of BIPA – comprised of representatives from both Westminster and the Irish parliament – is therefore calling for the establishment of a permanent, full-time multidisciplinary task force to tackle this issue.

Fuel fraud was pinpointed in the report as being an industry that costs the Irish taxpayer between €140 million (£101.8 million) and €260 million a year. It is therefore big business for these criminals and a significant amount of resources will now be required to put an end to this illegal cross-border trade.

The FTA has responded to the publication of the report and has given its full support to the findings.

FTA policy and membership relations manager for Northern Ireland Seamus Leheny said: "Every effort must be made to prosecute the owners of these fuel laundering sites who supply a minority of commercial goods vehicle operators in Northern Ireland, enabling them to use this saving to undercut the overwhelmingly compliant and legitimate operators across Northern Ireland."

According to the FTA, the number of fuel laundering plants and filling stations selling illicit fuel in border areas between Northern Ireland and Eire is "alarming". It is therefore essential that forthright action is taken on this matter in the near future.

Meanwhile, chair of Committee A senator Paul Coghlan stated: "Illicit cross-border trade, particularly in fuel and cigarette smuggling, is a huge issue impacting on the lives of citizens and small businesses on both sides of the border.

"The committee was hugely encouraged by the ongoing positive cooperation in this area and believes that its series of practical recommendations, if implemented, can build on this good work."

These measures include the introduction of new legislation in both the UK and Ireland that will target the operators of illegal filling stations specifically, ensuring they can be more easily prosecuted when found in possession of illicit fuel or other goods.

In addition, BIPA believes on-the-spot fines should be introduced for those who are found to have knowingly purchased illegal or counterfeit fuel – helping to deter individuals from seeking out these illegal alternatives in the first place and reducing overall demand.

Finally, gaps in enforcement must now be identified to ensure additional investment can be delivered in the coming years in order to make the issue of illicit cross-border fuel trade a thing of the past.

Across the industry, fuel costs on average make up around 40 per cent of total expenditure for freight operators, meaning there can be a temptation for some unscrupulous individuals to attempt to make savings in this area by purchasing illegal fuel.

However, the FTA concluded it stands in full support of each of these actions and has argued all of its members – operating in both Britain and Ireland – understand the importance of clamping down on this illegal trade.

Illicit fuel can present serious risks both in the manufacturing phase and for the end user. It is often based upon 'red diesel' that is permissible for use only by industrial machinery and for non-road applications – it gets its name from the coloured dye added to distinguish it from traditional petrol and diesel.

The ramping up of enforcement against this crime against operators both in Ireland and Britain is therefore a development that is being encouraged by BIPA and the FTA in tandem.

Failure to do so could result in these gangs going unchecked for years to come, with the money that their illegal practices are taking out of the economy representing a significant hindrance to the long-term economic recovery of both nations in the wake of several extremely difficult years.