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Five arrested in Spanish F-gas swoop

SPAIN: Action by Spanish police and the European Fraud Office has led to the arrest of five people and the seizure of more than 27 tonnes of illegal HFC refrigerant. 

In addition, the investigation, codenamed Operation Verbena, uncovered evidence of the illegal importation of a further 180 tonnes of fluorinated gases worth more than €1m. 

The five arrested are alleged members of a complex business network dedicated to the importation, commercialisation and irregular distribution of the gas. The organisation carried out this activity without import quotas and in breach of the European F-gas regulations (517/2014).

The authorities swooped on two industrial warehouses in the city of Almagro in central Spain and in the Madrid municipality of Campo Real, acting on information of the unloading of two containers of illegally-imported F-gas cylinders. In total, 2,126 bottles were intercepted, equivalent to more than 27,000kg of fluorinated gases. 

A further 1,068 empty cylinders were found in an outdoor patio area, some of them being illegal non-refillables. An undetermined number of bottles, which had been cut in half, was also found. Most of the imported gas is said to have been identified as R134A.

Irregularities of an administrative nature were also observed related to the handling of containers, the labelling and repainting of bottles and waste management, among others.

Further investigations found that the criminal group were behind companies conducting illegal importations from China since 2018. They by-passed customs controls by mis-declaring the shipments. Once in the Almagro and Campo Real warehouses, the refrigerant was distributed through a logistics company to customers in Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and Senegal.

While the documentation is still being analysed, initial estimates indicate that the total amounts involved could be more than 15,000 cylinders and more than 180 tonnes of gas. 

A further action at an end user customer in Tarragona found that goods that had been previously seized as a precautionary measure had been distributed. In addition, the cylinders were mis-labelled to evade the Spanish F-gas taxes. 

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