The EU's anti-fraud office wants Britain to repay billions in lost customs duties after failing to stop a Chinese import scam. False invoices were used to allow textiles and shoes to be imported without tax being paid.
OLAF - the European Union's anti-fraud office - said on Wednesday that customs fraud on goods from China into mainland Europe via Britain had cost the bloc some 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion).
The Brussels-based agency accused Britain of turning a blind eye to Chinese scammers when several other EU member states had taken firm action.
OLAF accuses Britain of ignoring rampant use of fake invoices and customs claims by Chinese importers over the period 2013-2016.
In a statement, the anti-fraud office said that it had "repeatedly drawn the attention of the UK customs authorities (HMRC) over the last years to the scale of the phenomenon and to the ongoing revenue losses."
But Britain had still not taken measures to curb the fraudulent traffic, nor have they launched any criminal investigations, the statement added.
Britain could face fine
"We recommended that the European Commission recovers the money from the United Kingdom," OLAF said in an email to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Customs duties go directly into the EU budget, so the European Commission will now decided whether to seek recompense from the UK government.
OLAF also said the scheme had cost Germany, France, Spain and Italy some 3.2 billion euros in lost national sales tax revenue.
The claim comes at a sensitive time in EU-Britain relations, just before London is to embark on negotiations to leave the bloc.
Britain has already balked at the idea of an estimated 60 billion euro divorce settlement which Brussels says the UK owes.
mm/hp (AFP, AP, dpa)