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Investigation ‘Fuel family’: EPPO busts criminal gang for €300 million VAT fraud

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(Luxembourg, 26 March 2024) – A coordinated sting by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Naples, Bologna and Rome (Italy) today dismantled a criminal gang alleged to have imported fuel to the Italian market while systematically evading VAT. The investigation, code-named ‘Fuel family’, has led to judicial measures against eight individuals, including the suspected ringleaders. A freezing order of approximately €300 million was also executed against 59 suspects and 13 companies, who are understood to be part of the fraudulent activity.

At the heart of the criminal scheme, according to the investigation, is a criminal association formed of at least ten suspects, some of whom are linked by family ties, operating a massive VAT fraud in the fuel trading sector, with branches in Italy and abroad. Five of these suspects were placed under house arrest and three will have to report regularly to the police. They are suspected of the crimes of VAT fraud, criminal association and money laundering.

According to the investigation, the fuel was imported from suppliers located in Croatia and Slovenia, as well as other countries, using a chain of more than 40 missing traders in Italy, which would vanish without fulfilling their tax obligations. At the top of the fraudulent commercial chain is a company located in Rovigo and a warehouse in Magenta. According to the investigation, the majority of the fuel was actually delivered to that warehouse and the rest to distributors. 

Based on the evidence, the fraudulent activities generated invoices for simulated transactions amounting to over €1 billion, causing an estimated damage of around €260 million in unpaid VAT. The criminal group is also suspected of laundering over €35 million of the illicit proceeds, using bank accounts of companies located in Hungary and Romania. This money would ultimately be handed over in cash to the perpetrators of the fraud, following systematic bank withdrawals. 

The VAT evasion also allowed the group to resell the fuel at extremely advantageous prices, distorting the principles of fair competition on the market.

Today’s searches were carried out by the Economic and Financial Police Unit of the Italian Financial Police (Nucleo di Polizia Economico-Finanziaria della Guardia di Finanza) of Naples, Rome, Caserta, Rovigo and Verbania.

All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in the competent Italian courts of law.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is the independent public prosecution office of the European Union. It is responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the financial interests of the EU.