Police bust major fake olive oil ring in Italy, Germany

An enforcement operation has taken down a large-scale criminal network that was selling fraudulent olive oil in Europe.

The Europol-coordinated operation has resulted in the seizure of 150,000 litres of low-quality oils that had been adulterated with colourants to make them appear like extra virgin olive oils, and led to 20 arrests. It is estimated that the gang netted around €8m (around $9m) in profit from the scam.

Starting with low quality sunflower oil, the Italy-based criminals added adulterants including chlorophyll, beta-carotene and soya oil to change its appearance. The mixing occurred in unsanitary conditions in an unregulated oil mill, and the counterfeit product was then sold on the German market, with the ring targeting restaurant owners, says Europol.

They acquired one million litres of sunflower oil every year for approximately €1m, and sold the counterfeit product between €5 and €10 per litre.

“While some of the workers were responsible for the production and packaging of the product, the ones with bigger credit worthiness delivered the fake oil in lorries every two weeks,” it adds.

“Once in Germany, the counterfeit product was stored in logistics companies waiting to be distributed onto the German market. In some instances, the fake olive oil completely replaced the genuine one.”

All told, 20 house searches were carried out during the operation, which also discovered five lorries transporting 23 000 litres of counterfeit oil each.

Italian farming organisation Coldiretti has previously reported that the 'Agro-Mafia' has been stepping up its activities of late, with a 30 per cent growth to a staggering €21.8bn in value in 2016 across all food categories.

Previous enforcement operations involving olive oil have uncovered links to the notorious 'Ndràngheta criminal network.

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