EU operation takes down illegal refrigerant ring

Enforcement agencies aided by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) have taken down a criminal network based in Spain involved in illicitly importing and trading in refrigerant gases.

Operation Marum – carried out jointly by the Guardia Civil, Spanish tax authority, Europol and OLAF – resulted in 27 arrests including individuals suspected of being the ringleaders of the organisation.

It also led to the seizure of 110 tonnes of different types of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, valued at around €11m ($11.5m), according to a statement.

Illegal imports of HFC gases used in refrigeration have rocketed in the last few years, according to chemical trade body Cefic.

The trade is poised to grow even further with tightening of EU carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) quotas – which set limits on how much HFC producers can place on the market – which came into force in early 2021.

Operation Marum uncovered "a complex and sophisticated fraud endangering the environment and citizen's health," according to OLAF.

The network imported gases subject to quotas from the EU into Spain from China using false documents, avoiding duties and taxes. Instead of moving the goods on from Spain, as was meant to happen, the gases were actually sold domestically at a vastly reduced rate, thus creating a black market.

The profits from the illicit trade were laundered and spent on luxury items such as high-end vehicles and real estate. Searches of premises linked to the criminal network also uncovered €364,000 in cash, 435g of cocaine and 435 ecstasy tablets.

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