Illicit HFC trade : a criminal network dismantled in Spain

110 tonnes of refrigerants worth €11 million were seized in Spain, illegally imported from China in violation of the EU F-gas regulation.

According to a press release from the Spanish authorities dated June 2022, 110 tonnes of refrigerants worth €11 million were seized as a result of joint action by the Guardia Civil, the Tax Agency, Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Gases subject to quotas from the EU were imported in Spain from China using false documents, meaning that many duties and taxes were not levied. The refrigerants were then sold in Spain at a vastly reduced rate, thus creating a black market. The profits from this illicit trade were then laundered and spent on luxury items such as high-end vehicles and real estate.


Refrigerants from China, including R32 and R404A, were brought into Spain irregularly, under the cover of the “external Community transit”. This scheme allows a company to transit goods imported from non-Community countries through the European Union without import duties, provided that these goods are destined for a third country.

The importer therefore illegally maintained and resold refrigerants in Spain that were supposed to transit through the EU to Jordan. In addition, those involved were in violation of the EU F-gas regulation on the import of HFCs.


Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases regulates the introduction of these gases into the European Union and provides, among other things, that operators must be registered on the F-Gas portal. Investigators found that the companies belonging to this criminal organisation were not registered on the F-Gas portal, that they did not have a licence for the marketing and distribution of fluorinated gases, and that the workers involved did not have the required training for the handling, storage and sale of fluorinated gases.


In this operation, 27 people were arrested, including the ringleaders, and three people were indicted for the alleged offences of membership of a criminal organisation, smuggling, offences against the public treasury and social security, money laundering, environmental offences, public health offences and violating workers' rights.




[1] Génie climatique magazine. 110 tonnes de fluides destinés au marché noir saisis en Espagne.

[2] European Anti-Fraud Office. OLAF helps dismantle criminal network involved in the illicit trade of refrigerant gases.

[3] Image credits: Guardia Civil.