The sentencing of a south Armagh man for fuel laundering offences has been welcomed by Danny Kennedy, but the senior Ulster Unionist said more convictions must follow.
Mr Kennedy was commenting following the 18-month term handed down to Thomas Moley from Crossmaglen at Newry Crown Court yesterday.
The 50-year-old from Cullaville Road had pleaded guilty in March to two fraud charges – relating to the discovery of a diesel laundering plant in 2012, and again in 2014, in a shed close to his home.
His sentence has been suspended for two years.
Mr Kennedy said it was important that, given the relatively small number of people convicted for similar offences, that more offenders are brought before the courts.
The Newry and Armagh Assembly candidate added: “It is welcome that HMRC are pursuing cases against individuals, and obviously it is a matter for the courts to hand down sufficient punishments, but I think there are opportunities to set out proper deterrents for anyone even tempted to engage in such illegal practices. It remains a serious and ongoing problem, particularly in certain areas, and I hope that the authorities will continue to bear down on anyone responsible.”
In 2013, Justice Minister David Ford revealed that no one in Northern Ireland had gone to prison for fuel laundering convictions in the previous five years.
Laundered fuel is red (or green) diesel which has been filtered through chemicals or acids to remove the Government markers.
The waste product is often dumped indiscriminately in the countryside, or next to the road in remote areas, causing pollution to land or waterways.
Last year a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster welcomed a new cross-border political probe into fuel fraud in south Armagh.
It was estimated at that time that fuel laundering was costing the UK Exchequer around £245 million in lost duty each year, while border fuel smuggling was costing a further £140m.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said that “the political class on both sides of the border is finally waking up to the scourge that organised crime has been to the border counties of Northern Ireland”.
He said: “With the National Crime Agency coming fully into operation in Northern Ireland the cards of the criminals are well and truly marked. Where the political inquiry must now go in my view is to establish who knew what when it came to the operation of these criminals.”