Fake champagne, whiskey and food seized

Opson III - Interpol agentIllicit oil, vinegar, honey and champagne have been seized in a huge clampdown on counterfeit and substandard food and beverages by enforcement agencies.

All told, more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks were uncovered in the joint Interpol-Europol operation, which took place across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

The Opson III operation - which mirrors the Pangea operations that have taken the fight to counterfeiters of medicines - led to the arrests of 96 people and disrupted the activities of the organised crime syndicates behind the illicit trade.

More than 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar, 80,000 biscuits and chocolate bars, 20 tons of spices and condiments, 186 tons of cereals, 45 tons of dairy products and 42 litres of honey were seized in the operation, which was supported by the EC's Directorate General for Health and Consumers.

"Most people would be surprised at the everyday foods and drink which are being counterfeited, and the volume of seizures shows that this is a serious global problem,” said Michael Ellis, head of Interpol's Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit.

Organised criminal networks are "making millions in profits" from the trade, he added, noting that these are being channeled into other criminal activities such as human and drug trafficking.

One of the highlights of the operation was the discovery of a criminal network in Italy that was producing and selling fake champagne. The authorities seized material to prepare 60,000 bottles, as well as fake labels, making three arrests.

In Spain, 24 people were detained for illegal work and immigration offences after 4.5 tons of snails illegally taken from woods and fields were recovered, and in Bangkok, police raided a warehouse and recovered more than 270 bottles of fake whiskey, as well as forged stickers, labels and packaging.

Officials in the Philippines seized nearly 150,000 fake stock cubes, and French police identified and shut down an illegal abattoir on the outskirts of Paris.

Fish and seafood represented the largest category of foodstuffs seized. Some 685 tons were recovered for offences including poor preservation, being incorrectly labelled and one seizure of 484,000 kilograms of yellow fin tuna which did not have the required documents for traceability.


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