Eurojust has just concluded the joint operations of the second coordination centre in a case concerning members of several organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in a sophisticated carousel fraud* scheme involving alcoholic beverages. Under this scheme, the alcoholic beverages are traded around Europe through mirror or phantom movements sanctioned by falsified Export Accompanying Documents (eADs) to conceal their true final destination, in most cases the UK, where the beverages will be put into the market.
The case, Operation Cocktail, was registered by the Italian Desk at Eurojust, pursuant to a referral by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Bologna in April 2013.
The joint action day, which started yesterday, led to the arrest of 19 members of the OCGs on the basis of 6 European Arrest Warrants executed in: Germany (2), Romania (2), and the UK (2), and 14 national arrest warrants executed in Italy. In addition, 31 premises were searched, and financial and real estate assets (including EUR 81 600 and several bank accounts), weapons, computers, vehicles, mobile telephones and documents were seized.
The coordination centre was chaired by Eurojust’s Italian Desk, and involved the following Member States: Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and the UK.
This coordination centre follows the one held on 15 May 2014 at Eurojust, within the framework of the same case, in which Belgium was the lead theatre of operations, resulting in 5 arrests, 23 searches, the freezing of 3 bank accounts in Latvia, and seizure of cash, computers, laptops, mobile telephones, vehicles and other high-value items.
The case evolved in two phases:
Phase one, April 2013 – November 2013: Eurojust collected and analysed a vast body of operational information from relevant national authorities (e.g. customs authorities; law enforcement agencies), with a view of detecting the OCGs’ modus operandi and criminal patterns; Eurojust informed concerned Member States accordingly; Eurojust coordinated the issuance and execution of Letters of Request (LoR) and other mutual legal assistance requests. This phase culminated in the coordination meetings held at Eurojust in November 2013 and April 2014; and
Phase two, April 2014 –November 2014: Eurojust coordinated the judicial responses provided at national level against the OCGs by organising the coordination centres and joint action days of May and November 2014.
Eurojust’s Case Analysis Unit provided analytical and operational assistance throughout both phases of the case.
Europol deployed a mobile office at Eurojust for on-the-spot support to the operation. This allowed information gathered to be cross-matched against Europol’s databases. Europol promotes a multi-crime and multi-agency approach to combating organised crime, enabling the provision of relevant information and intelligence to law enforcement agencies operating in various countries on different crime areas. For example, in this case, matches were identified between excise fraud and money laundering, and real-time feedback was provided to officers on the ground during the operation.
* Carousel fraud involves multiple businesses providing false documentation and shipping real or imaginary goods or commodities and services imported VAT-free from country to country. VAT is claimed from the local government at each stop. In the end, the goods are sold, often on the black market, and the national treasuries lose millions of Euros in bogus VAT claims. The same goods or commodities can make several rounds, thus earning the name carousel fraud.