An illegal fuel factory in Northern Ireland capable of laundering and packing an estimated 24 million litres of diesel a year has been dismantled by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The suspected laundering operation, capable of evading £15.5m in duty and taxes a year, was discovered when HMRC officers, assisted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, raided a farm in the Mayobridge area on Thursday morning (September 5).

Equipment believed to be used to pack laundered fuel into barrels for covert transport across Northern Ireland was seized. A 40ft lorry carrying a 20,000 litre tank thought to be used to bring diesel to the site for laundering, and 24 tonnes of toxic waste were also discovered on site.

A 61-year-old man from County Down has been arrested in connection with the investigation.

Derek Dubery, senior investigation officer for HMRC, said: “Fuel tankers are designed to move fuel safely, but we suspect this operation involved the transport of significant amounts of fuel in plastic barrels and in a 20,000 litre tank strapped into a 40ft lorry. This is reckless and shows a total disregard for the safety of other motorists and the general public.

“Anyone tempted to buy illicit fuel needs to consider where their money is going. Buying it is financing and encouraging this criminality within our communities. If the price seems too good to be true, that’s exactly what it is.”

Tanks and equipment were removed from the laundering plant. The man arrested is being interviewed by HMRC and investigations are continuing.