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Spain is to receive a further award for its actions in dealing with illegal trade in R22

SPAIN: Authorities in Spain are to receive a special award from UNEP for its efforts to stem the flow of illegal R22 refrigerant.

The ECA Ozone Protection Award for Customs & Enforcement Officers will be presented to Spain’s Public Prosecutor Office for the Protection of the Environment and the SEPRONA, the environmental protection unit of the Civil Guard at a forthcoming UNEP meeting in Turkmenistan.

In 2013 and 2014, the Spanish authorities focused investigations on online trading in refrigerants, both legal and ozone-depleting. This included suspected illegal trade activities in Spanish harbours where significant amounts of R22 had previously been seized on fishing vessels.

It was established that fishing vessels from different countries were docking in ports in Galicia to purchase R22 for servicing their on board refrigeration equipment. At that time, the import and subsequent export of R22 was only allowed by companies authorised by the European Commission. A search in the electronic licensing system of the European Commission revealed the name of a single company trading refrigerants with such vessels.

Further investigations revealed that this company had illegally traded virgin R22 with companies based in Spain and in other EU countries where sale and purchase of the refrigerant is banned. The companies are also said to have sold R22 to companies in non-EU countries without having obtained a valid trade license or without declaring the ozone-depleting refrigerants in the customs declarations for boat supplies.

As a result, 37 tonnes of R22 were seized and, in addition to the investigated firm, a further 24 companies possibly involved in the illegal trade or use of virgin R22 were identified.

The award will be presented at UNEP’s regional customs cooperation meeting in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 24-25 May 2016.

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The Guardia Civil’s seizure of R22 during the 2012 investigation

This is the second time that the Spanish authorities have received this award for its investigation in the shipping industry. In 2014, SEPRONA and the Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office won the award for operation Refresco. This investigation  in Las Palmas, Tenerife and Zaragoza began in 2012 and involved more than 60 police officers.

The investigation was triggered by numerous suspicious cases of export licence applications involving large amounts of R22 being delivered to ships of various flag states – something not observed in any other European port.

The R22 originated from China and was imported by ship into Spain legally but with the obligation to re-export the whole amount after re-packaging.

In November 2012, the Spanish Guardia Civil performed raids on several companies on the Canary Islands. The raids revealed evidence that at least two companies in Las Palmas were involved in illegally diverting R22 to be re-exported into the European market. False export licence applications were made and higher exports were declared than actually performed. The surplus material was apparently sold illegally and partly declared as non-virgin to Spanish and Lithuanian companies. Furthermore wrong information was provided in licences to bypass controls.

Searches were conducted in 16 offices and warehouses of various companies and seven vessels registered under different flags were searched. In excess of 150,000kg of R22 were seized. The intended use was mainly for refrigeration on fishing vessels.