Italian police take down premium wine counterfeiting ring

Police in Italy have busted a criminal network that specialised in taking empty bottles of premium wine, refilling them with inferior vintages, and selling the counterfeits online.

Italian Carabinieri, supported by Europol, carried out raids at multiple properties during the large-scale operation, which spanned eight Italian provinces – Avellino, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brescia, Como, Foggia, Pisa, Prato and Rome.

The investigation discovered that low quality wines were refilled in bottles under original labels and then sold as real ones on a “big online auction platform”, according to a Europol statement.

The empty authentic bottles were gathered from restaurants and delivered mainly by two individuals working in the food industry, and refilled with cheap wines purchased online or through discount stores.

The bottles were then sealed with corks and counterfeit capsules, with packaging films and false masking guarantee seals applied to conceal the lack of distinctive signs on the capsules used for the counterfeit units.

Once a contact with a buyer was established via the e-commerce platform, the counterfeiters expanded their promotional offers, setting prices way below those usually seen on the market.

A magnum bottle (1.5L) of some of the counterfeit wines typically exceeded €1,000 per bottle, according to Europol, which said that the wines were “sold in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US, often ending in the glasses of unaware customers of wine bars and catering services.”

The action is part of operation Opson IX, a regular enforcement crackdown that involves agencies from around the world. The last installment – Opson VIII – netted illicit and fraudulent food and beverage products worth more than €100m.

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