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Gang leader jailed for eight years for Nato fuel theft

13:50 04/10/2022

The leader of a group of organised criminals that stole two million litres of fuel from a Nato pipeline has been sentenced by a Belgian court to eight years in prison.

The theft took place over approximately two years as the criminals diverted fuel via a pipeline that runs through the town of Beloeil in Hainaut province, about 20km from the Chièvres military base, hauling it from a Belgian warehouse to Greece where it was used for purposes not yet clear.

The ringleader, who is of Russian origin, was sentenced in absentia and fined €240,000. A Romanian defendant who prosecutors said acted as his driver was acquitted, and a third man of Italian origin, thought to be the second-in-command within the criminal organisation, was sentenced to four years in prison and fined €160,000.

The civil case was brought by the Belgian state, citing damages of €2.4 million for an estimated two years of illegal diversion of fuel that amounts to roughly 40,000 full tanks.

The prosecution asked that both men be arrested immediately, but while the Russian defendant was taken into custody, the Italian man is in Italy and his lawyer said he would serve the sentence there.

The theft was first noticed back in 2019 when a Belgian representative of the Belgian Pipeline Organisation (BPO) filed a complaint citing abnormal drops in pressure along the pipeline going back to December 2018.

Then on 17 September 2019, a truck with Italian plates was stopped at a motorway service area near the French border, where it was determined that it was transporting the stolen fuel.

After interviewing the man, police learned that an unauthorised pipe connected the Nato pipeline to a warehouse located in Basècles in Hainaut, which was rented by the Moldavian owner of a road transport company.

That man was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined €8,000, though his lawyer insists he had no knowledge of what was taking place on his property.

The warehouse was under 24-hour guard by two men of Eastern European origin, each of whom was given a two-year sentence.

There were seven defendants of varying nationalities in total, but defence attorneys argued that some of them were unaware that they were participating in anything criminal.

“He has no role,” lawyer Nasredine Benzerfa said of a Polish worker. “He is a simple executor. He came as part of a job search and he found a job. It was his role to work as a mechanic.”

Another defence lawyer indicated that the extent of the criminal enterprise is likely much larger than initially thought: “Whether it was from Russia, Belgium, Italy, and obviously from Greece as well, since [the fuel] was all destined for Greece, we are dealing with a big, big organisation.”

Written by Helen Lyons