herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Net closing on €29m VAT fraud kingpin as second arrest is made

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The net is closing on a cross-border fraud kingpin suspected of pocketing most of the estimated €29m his gang has made in a massive VAT scam.

Yesterday, gardai made their second arrest in a long-running investigation when a man in his 50s, who is originally from Cork, was detained after officers searched his Co Roscommon home.

Hidden

In May, a woman in her 40s was arrested in Co Louth and questioned about the same multi-million-euro VAT racket before being released without charge.

The international operation is being led by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), which has identified at least 10 gang members on both sides of the border.

Ultimately, detectives are hoping to secure money-laundering charges against multiple suspects here and in the UK.

"One major difficulty in this investigation is that the money is so well hidden because those involved in this are so good at what they've been doing," a senior source said last night.

Gardai announced details of the operation yesterday, and the suspect was still being held last night at Castlerea Garda Station, where he was being questioned under anti-gang legislation.

Detectives are investigating what is known as a VAT carousel fraud, which is described as a "highly sophisticated and complex" crime.

As part of these criminal schemes, goods are imported and sold through a series of companies before being exported again.

The first firm in the domestic chain charges VAT to a customer, but does not pay this to the Government, becoming what is known as a missing trader.

The exporters of these goods claim and receive reimbursement for VAT payments that never occurred.

"This type of fraud involves supplier companies, VAT-registered entities, customer companies and transport companies," gardai said yesterday.

The investigation has been continuing since September 2016 and has involved the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and the PSNI as well as British agencies.

"Since the investigation's inception, numerous production orders have been served on financial institutions and a large volume of documentary evidence has been uplifted," a garda spokeswoman said.

"In September 2017, 15 properties, both commercial and residential, were searched across four provinces by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.

"A large volume of both digital and documentary evidence was seized."

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