16 March 2006

Revenue in hunt for Provo oil scam 'mole'

Irish Independent

Special chemical marker found in raids on 'Slab' Murphy home

Edel Kennedy and Kathy Donaghy
16 March 2006

A SPECIAL chemical 'marker' used only by Irish customs to identify smuggled fuel was found at the home of IRA chief-of-staff Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.

The Revenue Commissioners last night confirmed to the Irish Independent that an investigation is under way into how the special chemical agent ended up at the home of the Provo leader.

The 'invisible' marker was among items seized from Murphy's home during the joint Garda/PSNI raid involving up to 420 officers last week.

Sources last night claimed the discovery of the chemical marker - which has a complex chemical make-up used solely by Irish customs officials - has sparked a major "witch-hunt" for a potential 'mole' by the Revenue Commissioners.

"It's something no-one (involved in the search) banked on - there's a major panic on at the moment," one source said.

A Revenue spokesman confirmed officials had begun an investigation into the discovery of the chemical marker.

But he denied any Revenue or Customs staff are under suspicion.

He said the chemical component found on Murphy's farm is not a controlled substance, but admitted he is not aware of it being used for anything else.

The invisible marker is added to kerosene when it is imported here and all taxes and duties paid.

It is likened to a 'DNA strand' which distinguishes into which country the fuel was imported.

Customs officials, who check for illegally-imported or laundered kerosene, have a special test to determine if the marker is present.

If it is, this shows all the taxes have been paid.

"It's just impossible to tell if the fuel been laundered after adding the marker," the source said.

Anyone who has access to this marker can add it to kerosene themselves, thus avoiding paying the duties.

Alternatively the kerosene could be bought in the North - where the taxes are considerably lower - and its 'Northern' marker stripped out.

The 'southern' marker is then added and sold down here at a higher price.

Kerosene is largely used for home heating.

Homes in urban areas largely rely on piped gas or oil but homes in the country are mostly heated with kerosene.

Suppliers in the North are charged 17.5pc VAT by the government when they import the fuel.

They charge the customer a further 5pc VAT but then claim back 12.5pc from the Revenue. This means they pay a total of just 5pc.

This compares with the 13.5pc the Irish Government charges.

A standard 1,000-litre delivery will be up to €150 cheaper in the North as a result, making it a lucrative business for criminals.

Meanwhile, the cross-border investigation targeting the homeland of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy is following a money trail of cheques written by legitimate businesses found in a hayshed at his property.

The Irish Independent has learned that cheques worth €0.5m were found with stg£250,000 in cash at the property after last week's cross-border operation.

It is understood that gardai will now move to interview the owners of businesses who wrote cheques found in the barn.

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