A “ROGUE garage” which was selling laundered diesel at the Dublin Road closed down shortly after an inspection by customs officials, Limerick District Court has heard.
NR Filling Station Ltd, with an address at Newry Road, Dundalk, County Louth, was the company behind the petrol station which had traded under a number of names, including Limerick Fuels and Low City Price. The company denied having the fuel for sale or supply contrary to the regulations on July 12, 2011.
Customs officer Linda Ryan said she had visited the premises at around 2.45pm and having spoken to the person in charge, Tommy Roche, had taken three fuel samples from each of two pumps.
She had sealed the samples and placed them in tamper-proof bags before allowing Mr Roche to choose a sample from each bundle of three.
The samples had been sent away for analysis and had been proven to contain the blue dye anthraquinone, a marker added to fuel to indicate a reduced rate of tax has been paid.
Ms Ryan and her Revenue colleague Paul O’Byrne told Judge Eugene O’Kelly that there had been a steady stream of vehicles filling their tanks at the pumps and that Mr Roche had been observed taking cash from drivers.
Mr O’Byrne said Revenue officers in Dundalk had attempted to contact company directors Paul Nolan and Sean Doolan, who he believed to be based in Northern Ireland, but this had been unsuccessful.
“The premises closed soon afterwards so we had difficulty interviewing people in relation to this offence when the samples came back in August,” Mr O’Byrne said.
Solicitor Paul Tiernan sought to have the case dismissed over what he said was a breakdown in the chain of evidence. There had been no evidence presented that the fuel samples had been securely stored between the time they were extracted from the pumps on July 12 and sent off the lab on August 5.
But Judge O’Kelly refused this application declaring himself satisfied the samples had been sealed on site and had arrived at the laboratory in the same condition.
State solicitor Michael Murray said those involved in laundering diesel used various agents to remove dyes - including sulphuric acid, bleaching earth and silicon dioxide - which could cause environmental problems. County councils, Mr Murray said, incurred “substantial costs in the disposal of toxic sludge found either at laundries or dumped at the roadside”.
According to Revenue, there had been 2.5 million litres of laundered fuel seized and 29 fuel laundries detected or closed down since the beginning of 2010.
Such businesses hurt legitimate trade; vehicles could suffer mechanical damage and there was also the loss of revenue to the state in terms of tax foregone, Mr Murray said.
Judge O’Kelly asked whether there was “anything alerting members of the public to the fact that they were dealing with a rogue garage”.
Mr Murray replied that the premises was “widely known in the city as the cheapest place to get diesel at the time” and had earned some “notoriety” in the local papers.
“I suspect some people may have been naive but others, if they had any common sense, would have realised the prices were too good to be true,” Mr Murray said.
Judge O’Kelly said it “appears to have been a blatant operation of the sale of laundered fuel” and said the company was entitled to little by way of mitigation having contested the case and in the absence of its directors in court. “Unsuspecting members of the public”, he pointed out, “ran a substantial risk of significant damage to their cars”.
He imposed a fine of €5,000 with eight weeks to pay.