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Italy: EPPO raids criminal organisation suspected of €40 million VAT fraud involving tyres

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Luxembourg (25 January 2024) – In the context of a large-scale investigation led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Turin (Italy), several house searches, arrests and seizures took place today, in a probe into an alleged criminal organisation suspected of a VAT fraud involving tyres.

The Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) from Genoa, Foggia and Rome carried out the searches, seizures and arrests. Two people were arrested, two were placed under house arrest and another suspect is not allowed to leave his municipality. The Court of Foggia also ordered the freezing of almost €40 million, and the Guardia di Finanza succeeded in seizing 47 bank accounts, 11 real estate properties, four cars, and €56 000 in crypto currencies today. Moreover, the Anti-Cybercrime Office (Office anti-cybercriminalité, OFAC) of the French Judicial Police (Direction nationale de la police judiciaire, DNPJ) shut down several websites to stop the alleged fraudulent trade activity. The seizing of bank accounts is still ongoing.

On the radar of the EPPO is a suspected criminal organisation, linked by family ties, active in the online sale of tyres for cars and other motor vehicles.

According to the evidence collected so far, the suspects under investigation created a multitude of companies ostensibly based in different EU Member States to take advantage of EU rules on cross-border transactions, as these are exempt from VAT. It is understood that in reality, the companies were operating in Italy, and allegedly drew up false invoices and accounting documents to pretend that they were based abroad.

The suspected criminal organisation under investigation was involved in the online sale of tyres, using the drop-shipping model whereby goods are sent to the customer directly by the supplier. Due to this sales model, the seller does not need any physical shop or storage.

It is alleged that, since 2017, the suspects used a chain of fictitious companies in several EU Member States to sell tyres to customers in Italy via various e-commerce platforms. The fictitious companies based in the Canary Islands (Spain) were the official sellers of the tyres. The tyres came from legitimate European suppliers and were then directly delivered to the customers.

According to the investigation, the commercial operations were carried out without collecting or reimbursing VAT in any EU Member State. As a result, the tyres were sold at very lucrative prices, causing a VAT loss of almost €40 million and generating a turnover of €178 million.

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

The 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.