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150,000 Liters of Fraudulent Oil Seized by Europol

The criminal organization responsible for the olive oil fraudsters pocketed nearly $9 million annually from their illicit activity.

Europol headquarters in The Hague
May. 21, 2019
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Europol headquarters in The Hague

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Europol’s intel­lec­tual prop­erty crime unit seized 150,000 liters of adul­ter­ated olive oil head­ing for German restau­rants and arrested 20 people in a joint oper­a­tion with the Italian NAS Carabinieri and the Tribunal of Darmstadt in Germany.

The accused allegedly mod­i­fied low-qual­ity sun­flower oil with chloro­phyll, beta-carotene and soya, which was then passed off as extra virgin olive oil to be sold in Germany. In some cases, gen­uine olive oil had been com­pletely replaced with fake oil but was still touted as olive oil.

The oil adul­ter­ation took place by a well-orga­nized gang at an unreg­u­lated mill in Italy under unsan­i­tary con­di­tions. It was then trans­ported to ware­houses in Germany for dis­tri­b­u­tion to buyers.

See more: Olive Oil Fraud

The accused included dri­vers who made fort­nightly deliv­er­ies of the fake oil to Germany in trucks and accom­plices who were respon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion and pack­ag­ing of the oil.

Twenty houses were searched in Italy whilst in Germany five trucks, each car­ry­ing 23,000 liters of fake oil, were hauled in. Overall, 150,000 liters of fake olive oil were con­fis­cated at a range of loca­tions during the oper­a­tion.

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The accused are believed to have pock­eted around €8 mil­lion ($8.93 mil­lion) annu­ally from their adul­ter­at­ing oper­a­tion. It is also believed that they acquired one mil­lion liters of sun­flower oil each year for around €100,000,000 ($111,690,000) and then sold on their fake olive oil for between €5 and €10 ($5.58 and $11.17) per liter.

This seizure was part of an ongo­ing effort by Operation OPSON to erad­i­cate food fraud and pre­vent sub­stan­dard food and drinks being dis­trib­uted across Europe and fur­ther afield.

Europol gave its full sup­port to the oper­a­tion, which began in March 2019 with a brief­ing attended by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Italian and German author­i­ties at Europol’s head­quar­ters in The Hague.

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The orga­ni­za­tion’s role included pro­cess­ing and ana­lyz­ing infor­ma­tion obtained by inves­ti­gat­ing units as well as making experts from the Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition avail­able on the day of action to pro­vide onsite sup­port.

Back In 2017, Europol issued warn­ings to pro­duc­ers and con­sumers that fraud­u­lent food prod­ucts, includ­ing olive oil, cheese, wines and spir­its were on the rise across the E.U. Germany was named as one of the coun­tries most affected along with Spain, France, Italy and Greece.

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In the same year, a joint oper­a­tion between Interpol and Europol resulted in €230 mil­lion ($290 mil­lion) of coun­ter­feit and sub­stan­dard food and bev­er­ages being seized in an oper­a­tion span­ning across 61 coun­tries. This oper­a­tion unveiled wide­spread fraud­u­lence in prod­ucts, rang­ing from olive oil to alco­holic bev­er­ages.

Participating coun­tries received spe­cific Europol train­ing on olive oil qual­ity to assist them in detect­ing fraud. In Denmark, where the oper­a­tion focused on olive oil, it was dis­cov­ered that many prod­ucts labeled as virgin olive oil were blended with other grades and, in some cases, the prod­uct was no more than lam­pante oil.