Three arrests at Intersolar Europe for circumventing EU’s minimum module price


From pv magazine Germany.

Minimum import prices (MIPs) for crystalline solar panels made in China have been history since September but legal issues related to them are still reverberating.

German customs authorities have told pv magazine they executed two arrest warrants against Chinese nationals at the Intersolar Europe show held in Munich in mid-May. Those arrested are being held in Germany along with a third Chinese national also arrested in mid-May, said Antje Gabriels-Gorsolke, spokeswoman for the Nuremberg-Fürth prosecutor.

The third arrest was not made at Intersolar Europe, the prosecutor’s office told pv magazine, but is thought to have occurred nearby. The spokeswoman did not name the Chinese company connected with the individual but confirmed the person is a top executive at a Chinese PV company. The executive is suspected of being involved in the smuggling of solar modules into Europe in a case related to an investigation into similar activity by representatives of Chinese manufacturer Risen that has already resulted in prosecutions.

In the fall of 2017, judgments were issued by the Nuremberg-Fürth regional court after four people were convicted of circumventing MIPs. Those cases related to tax evasion of around €110 million and involved module maker Risen. The alleged main suspect in that case was on the run and judgments were made against defendants who had acted as accomplices. Two defendants were convicted of commercial tax evasion and given sentences of one year and four months, respectively.

Alleged re-labelling

The Chinese national arrested near Intersolar Europe is not thought to be the main suspect in the earlier case but is suspected of being involved in another case of circumventing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures imposed on Chinese PV manufacturers. Allegations have been made concerning the re-labelling of solar modules, Gabriels-Gorsolke said. When imported into the EU, panels were allegedly designated as made in Taiwan and India to circumvent minimum import prices applied to Chinese products.

The import payments allegedly avoided, said the spokeswoman, amounted to an high double-digit million euro figure. Those allegations will now be examined.

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It is not only the Nuremberg-Fürth prosecutor’s office which is investigating such cases. The first Chinese national detained by German customs officials at Intersolar in Munich is a suspect in connection with a separate criminal case that was brought to an end this week by the Augsburg district court. He is alleged to have been involved in the smuggling of PV products, according to the customs authorities. In the trial of another two accused individuals who had previously been detained, judges imposed prison sentences of 44 months, and 29 months, respectively. The sentence was based on a plea bargain agreement, the prosecutor’s spokesman, Matthias Nickolai, told pv magazine.

In the case related to the arrest of the persons in Munich, the allegation of the Augsburg public prosecutor’s office is that they evaded €35 million in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs. The suspects – who work for a company that has not been named by the authorities – are alleged to have circumvented minimum import price regulations by declaring false information in customs clearance processes in Germany and the Netherlands, as the customs authorities confirmed after execution of the first three arrest warrants in the case, in April last year.

Claims of extent of evasion

European solar manufacturing association EU Prosun has previously claimed the damage to European taxpayers caused by circumventing the undertaking on minimum import prices and anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties was up to €400 million per year. The measures against the solar modules exported from China were imposed at the end of 2013 by the European Commission at the request of EU Prosun. The MIP agreement expired in September after Brussels voted against the measure.

Other judgments have been heard, and proceedings opened in Germany, related to the avoidance of minimum import prices and tariffs, usually for amounts of millions of euros.

In February, proceedings against six defendants in the Third Criminal Division of the Nuremberg-Fürth District Court were formally opened. The defendants, including a former district administrator of the region, will answer numerous allegations of solar panel smuggling. In that case, Chinese PV manufacturer Sunowe is alleged to have organized the bypass of import measures through a German subsidiary. In that case, according to German prosecutors, there were more than €20 million of unpaid anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs, and solar modules are said to have been sold below the applicable minimum import price.

In the years when the minimum import prices were in force, the EU Commission repeatedly excluded some Chinese PV manufacturers from the agreement after discovering they were circumventing the measures. Some major Chinese producers requested withdrawal from the undertaking themselves. For all such PV companies, anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs of around 65% were applied to imports of Chinese modules into the EU.

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