'Slab' Murphy tipped off before garda fuel-smuggling site raids
The fuel-smuggling operation run by the former IRA chief Thomas 'Slab' Murphy had more than 12 hours' notice of last week's cross-Border security raids.
Gardai were already concerned that the operation was compromised when they discovered how many agencies were in attendance at a meeting the day prior to the early morning raid last Wednesday.
Up to 50 members of staff from customs and police – on both sides of the Border – Revenue, the Defence Forces and Social Services were in attendance at the meeting, organised by the Criminal Assets Bureau, prior to the raids.
In all, more than 300 customs and police on both sides of the Border were involved in raids across the country and were informed at least a day in advance.
An investigation is now under way to discover who tipped off the smuggling operation.
When the raid took place, customs and police found the remains of two fires where documents, smart phones, and computer discs had been destroyed. They also found that the hard-drives had been removed from computers.
Thomas Murphy was named under privilege during a Smithwick tribunal hearing in 2011 as a former chief of staff of the IRA army council.
When gardai and customs officials arrived at Murphy's plant at 6am they found that the fires destroying evidence of his operation at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, had already burnt out.
While the plant was being raided, 150 petrol stations believed to be selling laundered diesel from the plant, the most sophisticated ever, were also raided.
None of the 30 or so people, including clerical staff, engineers and mechanics servicing 15 oil tankers who work at the Ballybinaby plant turned up for work last Wednesday.
Searches were carried out in 11 counties. A large amount of documentation and over €100,000 in cash was seized in the raids at 22 homes and business premises.
The Ballybinaby plant had the capacity to produce over €5m of illegal fuel a year. Some 40,000 litres of fuel was seized at the same site.
The Criminal Assets Bureau in Dublin is understood to have uncovered a web of bank accounts in fictitious names, which have been used to launder an estimated €100m in the past 18 months alone.
Over €1.6m was frozen in bank accounts in the Republic, Northern Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe.
It is estimated that fuel smuggling costs the State up to €500m a year in lost revenue. Since last October, Revenue has introduced rules for petrol stations to report who they have bought fuel from and how much they have sold.
The trade is driven by the price differential between the dyed agricultural diesel and diesel sold at filling stations. Successive governments have considered repeated calls to align the prices but have given way to strong lobbying from farmers and fishermen who benefit from the cheaper dyed fuel.
Gardai believe the fuel smugglers employ people with advanced scientific skills to perfect the process of "washing" the cheaper dyed fuel. The clay used to remove the dye is imported in bulk from China, they have discovered.
The Criminal Assets Bureau is also investigating financiers involved in laundering the money raised.