Two Plead Guilty in Olive Oil Fraud Scheme, Sentenced to Two Years in Jail

Two Andalusian businessmen have been sentenced to two years in jail for their part in the distribution of hundreds of thousands of liters of fraudulent olive oil in Spain in 2005 and 2006.

Passed off as extra virgin olive oil, prosecutors say the oil was actually a mixture of 70-80 percent sunflower oil and just 20-30 percent olive oil. During a hearing in the Córdoba provincial court in September they sought nine years jail and fines of 8,760 euros ($11,560) for each of the accused.

According to El Día de Córdoba, on Thursday the pair, identified only by their initials – JMAM and JJCJ – and both from Córdoba province, admitted their role in the fraud and accepted a two-year sentence. A third man, FAM, was acquitted.

The three were among more than ten people arrested as part of ‘Operation Cholesterol.’ A national investigation in Spain in 2006, it followed complaints of suspected olive oil adulteration which were substantiated in testing by regional authorities.

In its initial indictment, the prosecution said the men had used their cooking oil packaging and distribution companies to mix the olive and sunflower oil. Some E141 – a food additive not approved for use in cooking oils – was then added to make the oil’s color akin to EVOO.

The oil was later labeled as EVOO in 5-liter metal and plastic containers and sold in Andalusia, Catalonia and in other parts of the Mediterranean coast. It was distributed by two methods: mainly as gifts to people on organized bus tours but also in sales to small establishments and wine cellars. Police also closed an online distribution network for some of the oil.

JMAM was said to be in charge of sales of the fraudulent oil to wholesalers in the food and hospitality sector.

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This article was last updated January 3, 2015 - 5:28 PM (GMT-5)

  • Richard Gawel

    Jailed for fraudulent oil that was destined for “gifts to people on organized bus tours but also in sales to small establishments and wine cellars”. I’ve gone fishing and ended up catching fish that were smaller than the bait that I threw out. I guess it can happen to all of us.

    While all forms of fraud are unacceptable – when either taken in fairy steps, or in institutionally sanctioned large stride after large stride, the fraudsters are driving legimate producers to bankruptcy.

    An interesting question is. Given the sentence handed down here, how many years would you get for selling hundreds of millions of litres of deodorised olive oil as extra virgin? My guesstimate? – and a very European estimate at that  … We’ll never know.

  • OliveChirper

    Not that it ultimately matters, but are you sure E141 (copper chlorophyllin) is illegal for use in cooking oil? It’s approved as a food additive in the EU, the UK, and the USA:

    The extra copper would not be good for oil stability (Fenton reactions), and it would still of course be an aid to fraud, but I’d be surprised if there were a specific ban on its use in cooking oil, absent fraud.