Paris: European police arrested 14 people in a continent-wide crackdown on VAT fraudsters who robbed EU taxpayers of hundreds of millions of euros, Europol said on Tuesday.
Operation Vertigo 2, run in conjunction with Europe`s prosecuting authority Eurojust, saw police swooping down on suspects in Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and other EU countries.
The operation "took down the masterminds behind a criminal network responsible for defrauding EU citizens of approximately 300 million euros ($330 million) in tax revenues," Europol and Eurojust said in a joint statement from their headquarters in The Hague.
"More than 250 law enforcement officers all over Europe focused on the arrest of key targets," said the statement, adding 40 premises were searched.
The alleged masterminds are suspected of so-called carousel fraud, also called missing trader or VAT fraud, which cost states hundreds of millions of euros in missing revenues every year.
It works on the principle of importing goods VAT-free and then selling them locally charging VAT, with the importer dodging the sales tax it should be paying to the government.
The same goods are then resold and exported, with the criminals then reclaiming VAT to which they are not entitled, at the taxpayers` expense.
Europol has said combating carousel fraud was a priority in Europe`s fight against serious and organised crime.
"Such theft of staggering sums of money by organised criminal gangs is taking directly from the citizens of the European Union," added Chris Perryman, Europol senior specialist in carousel fraud.
"It deprives our people of essential infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and public services, which should be funded by the proper collection of this revenue," Perryman said.