European police arrested 18 people in a continent-wide crackdown on VAT fraudsters who robbed EU taxpayers of hundreds-of-millions of euros, law enforcement agencies said on Thursday.
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Detectives in Austria, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden swooped on suspects and carried out searches and arrests on Wednesday.
The operation, run in conjunction with the continent’s prosecuting authority Eurojust and policing agency Europol, involved more than 200 officers.
It targeted a VAT fraud gang “responsible for defrauding EU citizens of approximately 320 million euros (USD 350 million),” Eurojust and Europol said in a combined statement in The Hague.
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Police arrested 18 suspects, 14 of whom had outstanding European arrest warrants, conducted 38 searches and seized more than £570,000 (636,000 euros, USD 697,000).
They also executed three assets freezing and seizure orders including “several” Swiss accounts.
The crime syndicate “used a sophisticated infrastructure including buffer companies… to facilitate money laundering and crime-related money transfers spread over various members states and a number of third states,” it said.
“Thanks to a high level of close international cooperation, we contributed to preventing this group from hiding behind national borders and continuing to defraud EU citizens of huge amounts of tax money,” said Germany’s member of Eurojust, Gabriele Launhardt, who chaired the operation’s coordination.