Irish gangs make millions by laundering cheap diesel

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The Independent Online

A steady increase in large-scale illicit fuel laundering across Ireland has led to a series of raids and seizures by the authorities north and south of the border.

A steady increase in large-scale illicit fuel laundering across Ireland has led to a series of raids and seizures by the authorities north and south of the border.

In one seizure earlier this month, police and customs officers recovered equipment capable of laundering 200,000 litres a week of diesel designed for agricultural use into fuel for use in motor vehicles. Customs sources estimate that illegal plants discovered in Northern Ireland were capable of producing about 15 million litres of doctored fuel in a year, which could lead to an annual revenue loss of up to £8m.

The large profits to be made in the racket arise from the fact that diesel for agricultural use retails at about 25p a litre, while other diesel sells for about 85p. The two types of fuel are essentially the same, but the agricultural fuel is distinguished with a red dye so that police and customs can easily detect when it is being usedillegally for non-agricultural purposes.

In the laundering operations, sulphuric acid and other chemicals are added to red diesel, which restores it to a neutral colour and enables it to be sold on to filling stations or other users.

High-volume operations can involve large tankers and lorries, storage tanks, fork-lift trucks and pumping and filtration equipment. In other cases a mobile service is offered, with vehicles available to visit people to doctor their tanks of red diesel.

Such operations, which are often run on farms or in isolated spots in various parts of Northern Ireland, carry a number of risks apart from detection and arrest. The high volume of sulphuric acid used can be extremely hazardous, with those involved sometimes usingrespirators.

One laundering operation in the Co Antrim town of Carrickfergus, not far from Belfast, came to light recently after a fire broke out there in the early hours of the morning. There are reports that those running the operation hoped to establish a supply for Belfast taxi-drivers.

A customs officer said after the Carrickfergus discovery: "This is certainly a problem right across the Province. This appeared to be a professional operation producing highquality fuel. It was organised in such a way that quite considerable amounts of fuel could be moved in short spaces of time."

The various operations are apparently being run with differing degrees of efficiency. Some are said to be very crude, turning out material that looks usable but contains a sulphuric acid residue, which can cause damage to a vehicle's fuel pump.

Customs sources say they have no direct evidence of any paramilitary involvement in the businesses; operations have been discovered at various locations across the Republic and in areas of Northern Ireland, which have been either predominantly Protestant or predominantly Catholic.

A few instances of laundering have also been found inBritain, but customs sources say these are on a very small scale, partly because red diesel is used much more widely in Northern Ireland.

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