Diesel laundering operation smashed after dawn raids north and south of Irish border


Detectives have smashed a massive multimillion-euro diesel laundering plant in one of the biggest cross-border operations of its kind in Britain or Ireland.

The Irish Republic's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), backed by 300 officers as well as military personnel on both sides of the Irish border, launched a wave of raids under the cover of darkness on almost 20 premises.

What is believed to be the country's largest illegal fuel business based at Hackballscross in Co Louth, and linked to a well-known ex-IRA chief, was at the centre of the investigation.

"This is the centre of all the activity - the command and control centre if you like - and all the tentacles of the supply chain spread out from there," a senior Garda source said.

"This is about following a money trail and we are talking about serious money here.

"There are tens of millions slushing around the place."

Twenty-five bank accounts have been frozen while computers, iPads, mobile phones, business records and 20,000 euro (£17,342) in cash have been seized as part of the operation.

Code-named Operation Loft, and several months in the planning, the mission in the early hours of this morning uncovered a plant at land which straddles the Irish border and which has the capacity to launder 10 million litres of fuel every year.

Crime gangs exploit the border by buying green or red diesel - cut price fuel for agricultural use - on one side before cleaning the dyes from it so they can sell it on the other side through a number of rented retail garage outlets.

The racket is estimated to cost the public purse hundreds of millions every year.

The operation at Hackballscross is believed to be capable of doing the Irish exchequer alone out of 5.5 million euro (£4.8 million) a year.

More than 40,000 litres of what is believed to be laundered fuel was found at the scene along with more than 150 bags of a cleaning agent branded as Bleaching Earth.

In addition, 16 tanks each containing 1,000 litres of sludge - which is the waste product resulting from the laundering process - and a 40ft container were also recovered.

A string of other premises including seven homes, 10 businesses - mostly filling station forecourts - and two warehouses were searched across the counties of Monaghan, Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Offaly, Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath and Tipperary.

In Northern Ireland, three premises - both private and commercial - were searched by Customs officials backed up by PSNI technical support officers, while a helicopter was also tasked to the scene.

No arrests have been made but detectives said the operation was primarily about gathering evidence.

"This is about following the money and we will be doing that now," a senior source said.

While the mission was deemed a success, police believe they have not fully dismantled the country's largest illegal fuel trade network.

"We have disrupted it, we have hindered it but we don't believe we have fully closed it down," the source added.

"These are cunning, ruthless individuals who have been at this a long time.

"It is the biggest fuel laundering operation on these islands and the trade is endemic in that part of the country.

"But we are hitting them where it hurts - and that's the money."

Around 100 personnel from various agencies in Northern Ireland, including Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), along with more than 200 gardai and customs officers in the Irish Republic took part in the joint investigation.

Spearheaded by CAB - set up to target the assets of Ireland's organised crime gangs - it also involved Dublin's Special Detective Unit, the armed Emergency Response Unit, Garda Air Support Unit and the Air Corps.

A Garda spokesman said: "This illegal activity has knock-on effects on legitimate businesses as well as on unsuspecting customers who have very often experienced damage to the fuel system of their vehicles from the laundered diesel or poor return per litre of petrol."


ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London