UK: Environmental Investigation Agency uncovers ‘systematic corruption’ of customs officials in illegal import of refrigerants into Europe, with Romania identified as one of the main entry points
In a shocking new report, Europe’s Scariest Crime – The Illegal Trade in HFC Refrigerant Gases, identifies Romania as a major illegal entry point for HFCs made in China, smuggled through Turkey and Ukraine. It highlights the corruption of customs officials, the abuse of the EU transit procedure, a blatant disregard of fluorinated gas quotas and an immediate availability of contraband material.
In the undercover investigation, the EIA identified Romania as a key EU member state used as an entry point for illegal HFCs coming directly from neighboring Ukraine and Turkey via Bulgaria. Once inside Romania, HFCs are destined for larger markets such as Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, France and the UK. Illegal traders have also reportedly revealed the existence of cross-border networks of businesses and individuals in Romania, Turkey and end markets such as Belgium and France.
One smuggled method identified involved several companies in Romania collectively purchasing large batches of HFCs sent from China to Turkey, which are then divided and moved to Romania, most likely via Bulgaria.
During its investigations, the EIA found no shortage of vendors willing to break the law to supply the EIA with contraband HFCs, sometimes offered in illegal non-refillable disposable bottles.
Meetings with individuals claiming to be experienced traders have revealed the systematic bribery of border officials and the use of vans, refrigerated trucks and coaches to transport HFC shipments. Four traders interviewed by the EIA mentioned the use of bribes of € 20-30 per bottle to customs officials when importing HFCs from Ukraine.
Early investigations saw the EIA target e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, eBay, Milanuncious, and OLX to identify illegal traders at prices well below market prices. Some vendors openly displayed images of HFCs in illegal disposable cylinders. Although, aware that disposable bottles are now more likely to be detected by customs officials, some black traders have switched to refillable bottles.
Inside Romania, the EIA claims to have spoken to the director of Eurotek Chemical, a Bucharest-based online refrigerant sales company, who allegedly openly admitted to selling smuggled disposable bottles of R134a and R404A. of Ukraine with the help of corrupt people. border guards. The EIA report claims it was ready to supply investigators with five tonnes of R134a and also offered to sell R22, the ozone-depleting refrigerant banned in the EU since 2010.
Investigators also met with the owner of Frigotherm Expert, a Bucharest-based entrepreneur, who the EIA said claimed he was able to source illegal HFCs in disposable bottles from Turkey, his supplier bribing them. border guards.
In another case, a Romanian e-commerce website, Eurorefrigerant.ro, was reportedly willing to provide five tonnes of R134a in disposable bottles. In a subsequent offer, the company’s contact allegedly used an email address linked to a company called EMG Invest. EMG Management Invest, registered as a new holder of HFC quotas in 2019, was involved in the seizure of 76 tonnes of R134a and R404A by the Romanian authorities in June 2020.
The customs documents relating to this seizure revealed that they were intended for five different recipients in Romania; four of them were not registered for F gas to receive imports, while the fifth would have largely exceeded its quota for 2020. The EIA maintains that the information received from the Romanian Environmental Guard would have indicated that EMG Management Invest was the fifth recipient.
Investigations in the Suceava region on the border with Ukraine, an apparent hotbed for illegal trade, have revealed possible links to organized crime. There, a number of traders identified through the OLX e-commerce platform offered varying amounts of R404A and R134a in disposable bottles. They admitted to having previously smuggled illegal refrigerants into Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy and England. One said the shipments would be divided and loaded into passenger cars traveling disguised as luggage in raffia bags or black trash bags.
EIA investigators also spoke with Turkish supply companies. In the spring of 2020, the EIA contacted the Lima Group, a Turkish trading company offering HFCs and auto accessories for sale online, requesting 500 kg of HFCs to be shipped to an EU destination. The company representative explained that his stock had already been sent to Europe and suggested that the EIA investigator buy directly from his company in Belgium. In September 2020, Dutch authorities seized 10 tonnes of R404A from a truck in the Netherlands. The refrigerant had been imported from Turkey and was destined for Belgium. The importer was not registered in the HFC register and had no quota. The HFCs were incorrectly labeled and loaded and the driver of the vehicle did not have the documents and certification required to transport dangerous goods. According to the EIA, the importer was associated with the Lima group.
As the world’s largest producer of HFCs, China is believed to be the original source of most, if not all, of the illegal refrigerants entering the EU. However, exports to countries bordering eastern EU countries, several of which have been identified as likely sources of HFCs entering the EU illegally, have increased by 96% since 2014.
EU customs data on imports from Turkey, another key source country for Chinese-made HFCs entering the EU quota-free, also records huge recent increases in imports from that country.
According to the EIA, 38 tonnes of HFCs were imported from Turkey into the 28 member states each year between 2007 and 2013. The EU said imports of HFCs from Turkey started to increase in 2014, reaching a peak to 1,002 tonnes in 2018, when a significant illegal trade in HFCs emerged. Turkey’s own export data suggests significantly higher exports to the EU. The discrepancies between European customs data on HFC imports and Turkish data on HFC exports have steadily increased since 2016. In 2020, the EU reported imports of 160 tonnes of HFCs from Turkey, while the Turkey reported exports to the EU of 706 tonnes of HFCs to the EU.
The EIA states that the findings of its investigations were communicated to the relevant enforcement agencies prior to their publication.
Europe’s Scariest Crime – The Illegal Trade in HFC Refrigerant Gases can be viewed and downloaded here.