According to Notícias ao Minuto, in total, the PJ carried out around 100 home and non-domestic searches in the municipalities of Porto, Matosinhos, Vila Nova de Gaia, Braga, Guimarães, Vila do Conde, Póvoa de Varzim, Coimbra, Figueira da Foz, Lisbon, Corroios, Vila Franca de Xira, Sintra and Funchal.

The operation, named 'Operation Admiral', "involved around 250 officers from the Judiciary Police from various departments, as well as 35 Tax officials, with the participation of a judicial magistrate, the European Public Prosecuto and two Portuguese European Deputy Prosecutors".

"Motor vehicles and other luxury goods, computer equipment, money worth more than two million euros, as well as various documentation were also seized".

This PJ operation was based on an investigation carried out by the European Public Prosecutor's Office, in which arrest warrants and house and non-household searches were complied with, for the presumed commission of crimes of criminal association, tax fraud, and money laundering.

European wide

The operation involved taking steps not only in Portugal, but also in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Greece, Austria, Lithuania, and Cyprus.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office confirmed that the crime involved "a complex VAT fraud scheme based on the sale of electronic goods". The estimated damage investigated under 'Operation Admiral' currently totals €2.2 billion.

According to the Attorney General's Office, in April 2021, the Portuguese Tax Authority in Coimbra "was investigating a company selling mobile phones, tablets, headphones and other electronic devices, on suspicion of VAT fraud".

"From a national point of view, based on the administrative inquiry, the invoicing and tax declarations seem to be in order", however, a deeper investigation, between several international authorities, ended up establishing "gradually links between the suspected company in Portugal and about 9,000 other legal entities, and more than 600 individuals located in different countries".

Eighteen months after receiving the initial report, the European Public Prosecutor's Office is now exposing "what is believed to be the biggest VAT carousel fraud ever investigated in the EU".

Criminal activities were spread across the 22 Member States of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, as well as "through Hungary, Ireland, Sweden, and Poland, along with third countries including Albania, China, Mauritius, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States".

“Extraordinary complexity”

In addition to the size of the damage, what highlights the fraud, according to the Attorney General's Office, "is the extraordinary complexity of the chain of companies".

"From companies acting as seemingly clean purveyors of electronic devices and claiming VAT refunds from national tax authorities while selling these devices online to individual customers – and subsequently funnelling the proceeds of those sales abroad before they disappear – to companies that clean the proceeds of this criminal activity".

However, these activities would not have been possible "without the involvement of various highly skilled organised crime groups, each of which has specific roles in the overall scheme".