At the end of the last decade, large quantities of kerosene were stolen from a NATO pipeline system and then sold to unwitting drivers at gas stations. As a spokeswoman for the defense alliance has now confirmed to the German Press Agency, criminals had tapped one of the pipes in the pipe system for the theft in a field not far from the Belgian-French border. The crime was discovered in June 2019, it said. It’s about 800,000 liters of aircraft fuel that were stolen.

A few days ago, the financial police in Rimini reported for the first time about extensive investigations into the case in Italy. According to them, the stolen kerosene was brought to Italy by a local gang and sold illegally to unwitting drivers. It was initially not known whether there was any damage to vehicles. The Italian police even put the amount of fuel stolen at around 900,000 liters.

The case is particularly explosive because the Central European pipeline system (CEPS) that was tapped is an important part of the NATO defense system. It covers Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and is designed to meet the Alliance’s petroleum product needs at all times. For example, it connects air force bases such as those in Ramstein and B├╝chel in Rhineland-Palatinate with storage facilities, pumping stations and feed-in points.

However, to keep operating costs as low as possible and increase pipeline utilization, the system is also used extensively to transport and store jet fuel for non-military customers. According to NATO information, it also supplies the large civil airports in Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and Zurich.

Three leaders and dozens of middlemen

According to the Rimini financial police, a criminal organization led by three entrepreneurs is said to be responsible for the export of stolen fuel to Italy. They had the stolen kerosene brought to Italy in order to sell it to unsuspecting customers through fuel dealers. Before being sold, the fuel was stored in an illegal warehouse and mixed with diesel and oil.

According to the financial police, several dozen middlemen were tracked down in the course of the investigation, in addition to the three entrepreneurs. They were involved in the sale of kerosene in various Italian regions. During the course of the investigation, assets worth several million euros were also confiscated using anti-mafia regulations.

The spokeswoman for the responsible NATO agency NSPA emphasized that no further cases had been reported since the theft in 2019. There is a multi-layered security system to protect the approximately 5,300 kilometer long CEPS network, she said. The Member States involved are doing everything they can to prevent further theft as far as possible. Five people arrested in Belgium have already been found guilty in connection with the crime discovered in 2019. However, other legal proceedings were still ongoing.