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Italy: Investigation ‘Final Toast’ exposes €30 million VAT fraud involving beverages

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(Luxembourg, 27 February 2024) – In the context of a large-scale investigation led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Palermo (Italy), several searches, arrests and seizures took place between Saturday and Monday, in a probe into an alleged criminal association suspected of aggravated VAT fraud involving beverages and EU funding fraud. 

The Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) of Catania, with support from units across Italy, executed precautionary measures against 10 suspects. These measures included arrest warrants for ten individuals, with five detained in custody and four placed under house arrest. One suspect is still at large. One of the five individuals in custody is the suspected leader of the criminal organisation, and is the son of a member of the ‘Santapaola’ mafia clan – one of the biggest Italian mafia families – who is currently in prison, under a special regime reserved for mafia association. A further 17 suspects were subjected to restrictive measures, prohibiting them from engaging in business activities or holding managerial positions for one year. 

During the searches, police seized bank accounts, 98 units of real estate, 20 cars, jewellery and luxury watches – all identified as proceeds of the criminal activity. 

The focus of the investigation is a suspected transnational criminal association active in beverage trading. According to the evidence, the suspects employed a variety of fraudulent tactics, including the issuance of fake invoices for non-existent goods and fictitious transactions via foreign-based companies, acting as so-called missing traders – shell companies established for the sole purpose of evading the payment of VAT. It is alleged that this allowed them to sell products at artificially low prices, undercutting legitimate competitors, resulting in VAT losses exceeding €30 million.

In addition, the suspects simulated the organisation of training courses, co-funded by the EU, for employees of various affiliated companies within the criminal group. These actions also aimed to illegitimately claim tax credits for organising the courses, which never took place.

The crimes under investigation include VAT fraud, aggravated EU funding fraud and money laundering, as well as fraudulent bankruptcy.

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.