Eurojust has ensured the coordination of cross-border investigations at the request of the Italian authorities (Public Prosecutor’s Office of Reggio Calabria) concerning a massive fraud with fuel taxes worth about EUR 1 billion. The Agency enabled the freezing of bank accounts in Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Malta and Romania. It also ensured the seizure of companies’ assets or the administrative closure of enterprises used for the fraud scheme, where possible. In a large-scale operation, 23 suspects were recently arrested in Italy and about EUR 600 million worth of assets were seized.
More than 1,000 officers of the Italian Guardia di Finanza, Carabinieri and military staff were deployed recently during an action to counter two mafia-style organised crime groups (OCGs) from Naples and the Reggio Calabria, which ran the fraud scheme. The OCGs had set up a string of shell companies to avoid paying the Italian authorities taxes on fuel trade. For this purpose, they had founded enterprises and opened bank accounts in the six countries mentioned.
Via a complex system of false invoices from the various companies they used, the criminal networks pretended to be trading in fuel, including with enterprises abroad. This enabled the perpetrators to avoid paying an estimated EUR 946.5 million in taxes in Italy. The final proceeds of the criminal activities were partially transferred to foreign bank accounts.
Investigations into the fraud started in 2017 by the PPO of Reggio Calabria and the arrested persons are suspected of association to mafia-style organisations, tax fraud, money laundering and the handling of stolen goods.
In this operation, EU Regulation 1805/2018 was applied – a new legal regime for the freezing of criminal assets at European level, which entered into force in December 2020. Eurojust contributed to overcoming legal difficulties with the application of this new regulation. The Agency also coordinated the cross-border judicial investigations and supported the authorities in the six countries outside Italy to freeze accounts, seize assets and assist with the administrative closure of the false enterprises that had been set up.
This recent action was coordinated in Italy by the PPOs from Naples, Reggio Calabria, Rome and Catanzaro. Further assistance was provided by:
- Bulgaria: Sofia City Court, involved in recognition and execution of freezing order
- Germany: Public Prosecutor’s Office Munich I
- Hungary: Chief Prosecution Office of the Capital, Department of Financial Crimes
- Malta: Asset Recovery Bureau, competent executing authority through recognition and authorization of the Maltese Criminal Court
- Romania: Public Prosecutor’s Office attached to Bucharest Tribunal (Parchetul de pe langa Tribunalul Bucuresti).