Tax authority acts against fuel smugglers

Some 200 Israel Tax Authority investigators, accompanied by police officers, entered houses, businesses and gas stations throughout the country Monday morning to put a stop to the smuggling of fuel from the Palestinian Authority. In the initial raids of what the tax authority is calling "Operation Swinging Door," the investigators searched 20 clandestine way stations and discovered "tens" of buyers who would distribute the fuel, particularly diesel, to gas stations and other clients. "In the course of the searches, the central suspects implicated in the matter were located and transferred for investigation at the investigation offices in Haifa, and more arrests are expected throughout the day," the tax authority said in a statement. The PA purchases the diesel intended for use in PA territory from the Dor Alon company. The Israel Tax Authority refunds the PA for excise taxes and VAT levied on such purchases, in accordance with bilateral agreements, on the assumption that all of the purchased amount would be consumed within PA territory. Israeli gas dealers, working together with Palestinian merchants, found ways to bring some of the diesel sold to the PA back into Israel, where it was sold at low prices. Since the diesel was distributed and sold in Israel with fictitious tax receipts, the damage done to state coffers was doubled, the tax authority said. Doron Arbeli, director of the Israel Tax Authority investigations department, estimated the loss of state revenues resulting from the smuggling at NIS 200 million, on the basis of analyses showing a suspicious rise in diesel sales within the PA, sales receipts found in the raids, and other intelligence sources. The racketeers would also dilute the diesel to inflate their profits from the scam, investigations indicate. In the settling of accounts between the Israel Tax Authority and the PA, held monthly, the authority will ensure that the missing revenues from excise tax and VAT on the smuggled fuel would be taken into account, the statement said. Further actions would be carried out to completely disassemble the organizational infrastructure enabling the smuggling, Arbeli said.