‘Draconian penalties’ needed to tackle fuel laundering

The head of a major forecourt brand has said convicted fuel launderers should face “draconian penalties” following an international conference on the illicit fuel trade.

Speaking after the anti-organised crime event in Belfast on Monday, Brian Donaldson, group general manager of the Maxol Group, said he welcomed increased co-operation between authorities North and South, but said much more could be done.

Brian Donaldson from Maxol
Brian Donaldson from Maxol

“The legitimate fuel industry believes that much more needs to be done, including improved communication between government agencies in Northern Ireland, a proper enforcement regime of current licensing, draconian penalties for convicted offenders, the proper monitoring of the supply and storage of agricultural fuels and the permanent closure of rogue sites,” he said.

Mr Donaldson also said the development of a new diesel marker, Accutrace S10, had the potential to reduce fuel smuggling in Ireland by making it uneconomical for criminals to launder it.

The clear, unscented tracer was introduced by customs officials in the North and South in April. It is hard to detect and is so difficult to remove that the fuel is left unusable after extraction.

Existing tracers, such as the red dye for agricultural diesel, meanwhile, can be removed using filters made from household products such as cat litter.

The Maxol chief had been part of a delegation from the Northern Ireland Oil Federation that attended the event, where justice minister David Ford spoke to delegates from 27 countries across Europe.

Speaking to delegates, Mr Ford said: “Organised criminals, who launder, smuggle and stretch fuel are cheating everyone, including their own communities, by diverting money from legitimate businesses and the public purse.

“Their income may also be used to fund other organised crime such as drugs and human trafficking. The environmental damage caused by the associated waste dumping is also a significant issue in many areas and the clean-up is another cost to the taxpayer, never mind the potential environmental damage.”

Justice minister David Ford

Mr Ford also called urged the HMRC to invest in a fuel carrier logging system similar to the Republic of Ireland’s ROM1 (Return of Oil Movements) scheme, which has proved popular among fuel companies in the South.

“This would improve traceability and help authorities take action more quickly,” he said.

Pat Curtis, member of the specialist investigations team at HMRC, added that the illicit trade in fuel oils was a “major threat” to the effectiveness of fuel taxation.

“There are clear indications that professional and organised gangs are researching and developing new and better ways to counterfeit fuel, and law enforcement agencies across Europe regard this issue as a shared responsibility.

“This event will help to coordinate an EU-wide approach to strengthen existing detection techniques and control mechanisms.”