Customs officials seize heating oil and van from close ally of minister
A close ally of Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys is being investigated after customs officials seized oil from his van.
Owen Lavery, who is the head of the Fine Gael branch in Co Monaghan, was stopped by officials conducting routine checks as he was driving towards the border on Saturday night.
Officials from the Revenue Commissioners confiscated what is believed to be a couple of hundred litres of oil used for heating purposes.
Mr Lavery was questioned at the scene and is believed to have insisted that he did not intentionally do anything wrong.
Customs officials seized Mr Lavery's van as part of their investigation, but are likely to release it in the coming days.
Mr Lavery is an influential and respected figure within Fine Gael in the North East and is close to Ms Humphreys.
The incident took place just days after Mr Lavery attended an event in the constituency along with Ms Humphreys and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.
When contacted by the Herald last night, Mr Lavery confirmed that the incident took place but said he did not wish to comment further.
Sources, however, say he now anticipates being hit with a fine.
A person taking oil across the border must notify the local revenue office and pay taxes and other duties on the oil.
Officials from Revenue's anti- evasion team have in recent years been running a crackdown on suspected smuggling of home heating oil.
The crackdown has focussed on border regions, including counties such as Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.
It has involved the Revenue's mobile units stopping motorists at various checkpoints to establish whether they are concealing oil.
There has been a particular emphasis on the illegal importation of kerosene.
Suppliers have been found placing advertisements in local newspapers offering to deliver kerosene loads to customers' homes.
And since 'Brexit', MPs have warned that the issue of smuggling is now likely to increase.
At an Oireachtas committee hearing last week, Revenue chairman Niall Cody said his officials have been running comprehensive and successful strategies to combat smuggling.
He said the taxpayer was saved up to €200m in 2014 as a result of the efforts.
"The tax loss associated with fuel laundering is not quantifiable, but there's no doubt that it was very significant," Mr Cody told TDs and senators during the hearing.
A separate independent report estimated losses to the exchequer last year of €239m.