BRAZEN thieves broke into an army base and stole a tanker loaded with thousands of litres of illegal fuel that had only been seized by customs officers four days earlier.
Garda and military police investigations are under way after the tanker, laden with 20,000 litres of seized fuel worth €30,000, was driven from Aiken Barracks in Dundalk, Co Louth, smashing its way through locked gates.
Soldiers who were on duty at the barracks entrance were taken by surprise as the tanker was driven at high speed through the gates.
The tanker was one of a number of vehicles seized by Revenue's customs service last week in a raid on an oil-laundering plant in Co Monaghan.
Confirming the theft, the army press office said no military personnel were injured during the incident, which took place around 2am yesterday.
Security at the base is certain to be reviewed in the wake of the robbery.
Louth Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick said: "It is very alarming that somebody is willing to go into an army barracks where people are armed and would have the cheek to ram the gate.
"They are thugs and diesel laundering is costing us hundreds of millions of euro a year."
Customs have an arrangement with the Defence Forces to store seized vehicles or illegal consignments at army bases while investigations continue.
The missing tanker was one of six vehicles, along with a forklift and ancillary equipment, seized in raids in Co Monaghan last Wednesday.
The main discovery was a diesel-laundering plant at Drumacon capable of laundering 15 million litres of fuel a year, which equated to a loss to the Exchequer of €8m a year.
The tanker that was seized and subsequently stored at the army barracks was part of a follow-up operation that also resulted in a trailer with a concealed tank and 68 bags of bleaching earth also being seized.
A garda spokesman said they were investigating the theft while the Revenue Commissioners would only confirm it had reported it to the gardai.