Operation ‘Cheap Ink’: EPPO cracks down on €58 million VAT fraud involving office supplies

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In an operation code-named ‘Cheap Ink’, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Venice (Italy) today detained 18 suspects, believed to be part of a criminal organisation selling office supplies at cheap prices by fraudulently avoiding VAT payment, with profits estimated at €58 million.

The investigation started in 2020, following targeted administrative checks against a number of companies operating in the trade of stationery and consumables for printing equipment. The extremely cheap prices charged for these products, not in line with the market, had aroused suspicions from the Italian Financial Police (Nucleo di Polizia Economico Finanziaria Bolzano –Guardia di Finanza).

Subsequent investigations revealed the existence of a complex fraud scheme involving more than 30 suspects who, using a network of companies located mainly in the Triveneto region, but also in numerous EU countries, handled the importation of these products into Italy, systematically failing to pay VAT.

The VAT evasion allowed the group to resell the imported products – mainly toners for professional printers, but also stationery – at extremely advantageous prices, distorting the principles of fair competition on the market.

Two entrepreneurs of Paduan origin, who remain in custody, are believed to be the promoters of the scheme, which involved using destitute people as ‘straw-men’ for around 30 companies, making it impossible to recover the due VAT. The assets of both suspects, amounting to €26 million, are being seized by Court order.

According to the investigation, the profits of the fraud allowed the suspects to acquire huge personal assets, including a Ferrari and other luxury cars, as well as valuable real estate.

The group is also suspected of laundering money through lucrative investments in Italy and abroad, in tourism, catering, real estate and cryptocurrencies.

At the request of the EPPO, the Judge for Preliminary Investigations of the Court of Padua issued the following coercive measures for the suspects arrested during today’s operation: three will remain in prison, eight under house arrest and three in compulsory residence. In addition, four suspects were banned from the exercise of executive offices of legal persons and enterprises.

In order to recover the damages to the national and EU budgets, the court ordered the preventive seizure of money and financial assets, vehicles and real estate to a total value of approximately €58 million, to be executed against 19 individuals and 20 companies. Shareholdings of eight companies are also being seized.

Today’s operation involved 30 searches carried out mainly in Veneto, but also in other northern Italian regions, by more than 100 Financial Police officers and ‘cash dogs’ – canine units specialised in searching for currency.

The investigation, which was ongoing for more than two years and was coordinated by the EPPO, involved the South Tyrolean Financial Police officers, in cooperation with investigative units from Czechia, UK, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Germany.

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