Spanish Police Say Palm, Avocado, Sunflower Was Passed Off as Olive Oil

Details of an alleged international olive oil scam – in which palm, avocado, sunflower and other cheaper oils were passed off as olive oil – were released today by Spanish police.

They said the oils were blended in an industrial biodiesel plant and adulterated in a way to hide markers that would have revealed their true nature. The oils were not toxic, however, and posed no health risk, according to a statement by the Guardia Civil.

As previously reported in Olive Oil Times, 19 people were arrested last week following the year-long joint probe by the police and Spanish tax authorities, part of what they call Operation Lucerna.

Fifteen of of those arrested are Spanish, two are Ecuadorian, one is Colombian and another Italian.

Police said today the alleged fraud involved a complex network of 30 companies and ‘straw men’ from Spain, Italy and Portugal, and an estimated €3 million ($4 million) or more IVA (Spanish VAT) fraud.

The investigation focused on locations in Jaén and Córdoba, however, and police seized documents after searching four business premises in the former.

They believe that false documents and holding companies were used to sell the adulterated oil for human consumption via two main methods: bulk sales to unwitting third party businesses and sales of bottles labeled as olive oil.

“This illegal practice causes very serious unfair competition in the sector given that, by not paying VAT and using inferior or other vegetable oils, the organization was able to price the product well below the market rate,” the police statement said.

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This article was last updated November 14, 2014 - 8:55 PM (GMT-5)

  • Antonio

    Ni la policia ni la fiscalia han alertado a la poblacion de las marcas de los aceites envasados fraudulentos y hace casi dos meses que se descubrio el fraude ¿irresponsabilidad? o ¿complicidad?

  • Richard G.

    The silence of the International Olive Council on this, and related matters is deafening. All this bad press negatively impacts on the tens of thousands of legitimate olive oil producers, most in countries that they claim to represent. Compare this lack of response with the immediate outcry following the release of standards in other parts of the world that advanced the mantra of truth in labelling.

  • Brian

    What I find astonishing is that, given the very poor prices paid to growers, which has lead to the abandonment of many olive trees, that there is a ‘need’ for anyone to commit such frauds. There is potential for a large increase in the genuine oil output, certainly here in Catalunya, without any significant investment in additional trees

  • Patrick Horstead

    The Italians have been ‘passing off ‘ Spanish and Greek olive oil as their own for many years. They simply do not have the volume of olive groves to produce the amount of oil that they export. They import Spanish and Greek oil and blend them with Italian oil; the Spanish giving them volume and then cutting it with the superior Greek to achieve a better quality. I came across this in the 80s when I was involved in the trade, and am certainly not surprised that it continues today.