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Eighteen arrested in EU-wide VAT fraud operation

Eighteen people have been arrested in countries across the EU for VAT fraud worth €320 million, law enforcement agencies have said.24 Oct 2016

Police arrested 18 suspects, 14 of whom had outstanding European arrest warrants, conducted 38 searches and seized more than €636,000. They also executed three assets freezing and seizure orders including several Swiss accounts, Eurojust and Europol said

Over 200 police officers from authorities in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK were involved in the case.

The group behind the criminal activity used a sophisticated infrastructure including buffer companies, missing traders, and companies functioning as alternative payment platforms for money laundering and crime-related money transfers spread over various member states and a number of third states.

Europol set up a mobile office to facilitate real-time information exchange and to cross-match analysis of the data collected, it said. 

Wil van Gemert, Europol’s deputy director of operations, said: "The sheer greed of these criminals will not be tolerated and Europol will continue to do all it can to help the member states to defeat cross-border financial crime." 

The European Commission said in September that VAT collection is failing to improve across the EU. 

The 'VAT gap', or difference between the expected revenue and the amount actually collected, was no better in 2013 than in 2012, it said. 

Earlier this month the UK's HMRC proposed a new penalty that it said would capture businesses and company officers that "should have known" about the presence of VAT fraud somewhere in the supply chain, as well as those who actually knew about the fraud. 

"Organised VAT fraud presents a significant risk to the public revenue," HMRC said in its consultation. "It commonly involves supply chains which seek to distance those behind the fraudulent evasion of VAT from the parties and supplies in the chain."

The new penalty would be based around the current knowledge principle, or 'Kittel principle', which prevents businesses from reclaiming VAT as input tax if they knew, or should have known, that their transactions were connected with VAT fraud. However, HMRC intends to do away with the distinction between "knew" and "should have known" for the purposes of the new penalty.