OLAF awarded for its work against smuggling in climate-damaging gases

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is awarded the prestigious Montreal Protocol Award for Customs and Enforcement Officers in recognition for the strong commitment to address illicit trade in ozone-depleting substances and fluorinated global warming substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol. OLAF’s operations in collaboration with its operational partners have led to the seizure and detention of almost 800 tonnes of illegal refrigerants over the past few years.  

OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said: “Fighting the illicit trade in hydrofluorocarbons is an active contribution to protecting the environment and to the EU’s ambitious climate goals to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. Tackling the illicit imports of HFCs has been an operation priority for OLAF for several years. Our cooperation with national, European and international authorities is key to the success of our operations and I am very honoured that our collective efforts have been recognised”.

The gases used in refrigeration equipment are often HFCs – hydroflourocarbons that were introduced as replacements for ozone-depleting substances. HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer but are potent greenhouse gases, often with a high global warming potential. To address this issue, an EU Regulation adopted in 2014 established a phase-down to progressively reduce the quantity of HFCs placed on the market. Criminal networks and other ill-intentioned actors tried to exploit the phase-down to generate opportunities for an illicit parallel trade.

Tackling this black market, especially the illegal imports of these gases into the EU, is an operational priority for OLAF. The environmental impact of illicit imports can be devastating. Preventing them from entering the EU market is part of OLAF’s contribution to protecting citizens, the environment and legitimate trade. OLAF supports cross-border investigations and works closely with national and international authorities passing on tracking information and intelligence on suspicious shipments and operators to lead to significant seizures and detentions of illegal shipments.

OLAF received the award during the 5th edition of the ECA Montreal Protocol Awards for Customs and Enforcement Officers that was held virtually on 29 March 2023. Various national authorities and international organisations were awarded the Montreal Protocol Medal and Certificate during the event which included the participation of the World Customs Organization, the Ozone Secretariat and UNEP Law Division’s OzonAction Programme.