Greece Arrests Member of Gang That Made $21b from Illegal Fuel Sales

Gas pipeline
Greece arrests senior member of gang which made $21b from illegal fuel product sales. Credit: Public Domain

Greek authorities took into custody a senior member of an international criminal gang that smuggled Latin American fuel products for illegal sale across the globe, making an estimated profit of more than $21 billion, police said on Saturday.

The arrested gang member is an Italian national whom Interpol had issued an arrest warrant for – he was found in a southern Athens suburb on Friday, a police official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

The warrant ordered the gang member’s arrest and his extradition to Venezuela to be tried for crimes including the illegal transport and trade of resources and strategic importance, the official said.

The criminal organization stole the fuel products that were loaded onto its oil tankers from ports in Latin America, and turned off tracking transponders to keep shipping brokers out of the know, police said in a statement.

The gang made a profit of more than $21 billion from the smuggling, causing harm to both brokers and their countries, police said.

Other Gang-Related Fuel Fraud Operations

Back in 2020, law enforcement authorities from 23 EU Member States struck a blow at organized crime gangs involved in fuel fraud by arresting 59 individuals in a year-long operation. The joint operation was supported by Europol as part of the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT).

The operation, led by the Hungarian National Tax and Customs Administration (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal, NTCA) and the Slovak Financial Administration (Finančná správa Slovenskej republiky), began in early 2019, based on intelligence on the modus operandi, routes, types of products and economic operators involved in this particular type of fuel fraud.

Fuel fraud gangs is a growing phenomenon and typically involves base-oil fraud, also known as designer fuel fraud. This type of fraud requires relevant expertise and is usually only available from trained chemists. Designer fuel is a mixed product, which in some cases is exempt from tax in the EU.

To avoid that the fuel is subject to excise regime once on the market, criminals produce a mixture of gas oil and other added compounds to modify the final physical features of the product, and they can sell it in the black market.

Europol’s Analysis Project (AP) Smoke has supported the operation throughout with SIENA (Europol’s secure platform for information exchange) and facilitating international cooperation between the involved Member States, running cross-checks and providing analytical support and operational expertise. The Customs Cooperation Working Party (CCWP) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) also supported the initiative.

One of the national highlights of the initiative was in Italy in October 2019, when complex investigative work performed by the Italian Finance Corps (Guardia di Finanza) resulted in the apprehension of six individuals from gangs, the seizure of over 86,000 litres of designer fuel and 12 vehicles, and the dismantling of huge storage facilities in the province of Naples.

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