Meet the everyday Heroes

Every day, extraordinary people in the HFC value chain are fighting illegal trade. Discover their stories below.

OLAF “Illicit Trade, Health and Environment” Team

OLAF “Illicit Trade, Health and Environment” Team

Investigators, European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)

“We are very proud to fight against this problem and to protect the climate and legitimate industry. Our work has shown us that raising awareness among EU member states, as well as cooperation with all stakeholders is crucial to help us detect and combat this illegal trade. This is why we are committed to supporting initiatives like the pledge which encourage exchanges of information and best practices.”

OLAF is a European Union body which – amongst other things – detects and investigates illicit goods coming from outside the EU. They work to prevent trade in products which could be harmful for the safety and security of the citizens and for the environment and cooperate with authorities to stop them from coming onto the market. The OLAF “Illicit Trade, Health and Environment” Team is composed with notably two investigators who have the knowledge, experience, skills and competencies needed to conduct effective, specialised investigations in the domain of illicit HFC trade. They dedicate their day-to-day to tracking down smuggled HFC imports alongside other goods and, if appropriate, with the support of other colleagues as well as the analyst and forensic team.

In practice, they work to substantiate intelligence of illegal shipments of HFCs which they gather from their own investigations, or via tipoffs from other sources. They then coordinate with EU member state customs authorities in order to stop shipments and streamline the cooperation between the customs authorities and the F-Gas authorities; the intelligence they supply has led to several large seizures of illegally traded HFCs over the past year.

When they first started working on this problem, the team identified loopholes which were being exploited by criminal organisations. Up to 90% of smuggled product is linked to abuses to the T1 transit procedure, whereby shipments which are meant to travel through the EU are being diverted and sold illegally within the member states. A lot of OLAF’s success has been built on bridging the customs systems in member states with the EU’s F-gas quota portal. This enables them to see if a company importing HFCs is registered as a legitimate quota-holder. In future these two systems will work together automatically, making it easier to detect smuggled products more quickly, through the Single Window System under development by the Commission and the Member States. They also identified shell companies established only for purpose of smuggling non-refillable cylinders which are prohibited in the EU and evading VAT.

Interestingly, it is not just the seizures which deter criminals but publicising their success acts as a preventative too. After a seizure, they have noticed a decrease in activity in that member state for a few weeks. They believe that the smugglers focus on different routes into Europe for a short while before retrying their original tactics.

OLAF’s work is undoubtedly helping to prevent illegally traded HFCs as they work to intercept shipments across Europe. The black market is not slowing down – illegal shipments and OLAF alerts have skyrocketed since the COVID lockdown period earlier this year – but OLAF is constantly improving their methods. Increased awareness and cooperation are enabling them to gather significant amounts of intelligence, with one or two alerts passed onto member states every day in September 2020 alone.

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