Eurojust supports an EPPO-led operation against carousel VAT fraud for the first time

11 March 2024
Knowledge Base

For the first time, Eurojust has supported an international joint action led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) against large-scale cross-border carousel VAT fraud involving companies in several Member States. The joint operation, also supported by Europol, resulted in the arrest of 14 suspects and more than 180 simultaneous searches in 17 countries. Over 680 officers participated in the actions on the ground.

During the searches, law enforcement seized vast quantities of smartphones, worth more than EUR 15.3 million, as well as a yacht, worth EUR 3 million, and EUR 1.2 million in cash and cryptocurrency. Several luxury cars, jewellery, luxury watches and 2.5 kg of gold were also found.

The suspects are being investigated for large-scale cross-border Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud involving the trade of electronic goods and protective face masks through companies based in several European countries. MTIC fraud is the theft of value-added tax (VAT) from a government by organised crime groups. The perpetrators are believed to have defrauded up to EUR 195 million through several criminal schemes. Most of the VAT damage was caused in Sweden, where the missing trader companies were based.

Eurojust supported two investigations targeting the same crimes, one led by the EPPO and a second one led by the Swedish authorities. The EPPO investigation targeted the two managers and shareholders of a German distributor company that was acting as an in/out buffer/conduit company in the fraud chain. It purchased and sold mobile phones to other companies in several countries, which were then sold to the Swedish missing trader companies. Eurojust was instrumental in identifying ongoing linked investigations in Sweden, targeting the individual behind the Swedish missing trader companies.

The case was opened at Eurojust in 2021 at the request of the German European Delegated Prosecutor. Eurojust facilitated the cooperation between the EPPO and Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Poland – all EU Member States that do not participate in the EPPO – and the United Kingdom. Eurojust can support cross-border cooperation in EPPO cases that involve countries that do not participate in the EPPO. The Agency also facilitated cooperation between Sweden and Malta.

The Agency hosted seven coordination meetings to facilitate judicial cooperation between the EPPO and the national authorities involved in the case. Eurojust facilitated the exchange of information and the execution of several European Investigation Orders and European Arrest Warrants.

During the action day, a coordination centre was set up at the EPPO premises in Luxembourg, for the first time jointly with Eurojust. The Eurojust coordination centre focused in particular on coordinating the execution of the Swedish measures in Malta.

In the run-up to the action day, Europol provided analytical support to the partners in this investigation. Furthermore, Europol supported the action day by providing over 100 secure communication channels (VCP – Virtual Command Post), and by deploying a specialist with a mobile office to the operational command centre at EPPO’s headquarters in Luxembourg.

Eurojust and the EPPO signed a Working Arrangement in February of 2021 to facilitate cooperation between the Agency and the EPPO.

The following authorities took part in this investigation:

  • Germany: German Tax Investigation Offices in Berlin, Bielefeld, Cottbus, Münster and Nuremberg; Police Headquarters from Nordhessen and Brandenburg; State Criminal Police Offices from Brandenburg and Berlin;
  • Malta: Malta Police Force – Financial Crimes Investigation Department and International Relations Unit;
  • Poland: Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Warszawa and Zamość; Police Headquarters in Warszawa and Zamość;
  • Sweden: Swedish Economic Crime Authority.

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