Sixteen people have been arrested and another five are under investigation for stealing recently-harvested olives from a farmer’s groves in the autonomous community of Madrid.
The arrests came after the Guardia Civil, a branch of the armed forces that acts in a policing capacity, raided two olive mills allegedly used for transforming the stolen fruit in the Toledo and Guadalajara regions.
In a statement, the law enforcement organization said the arrested individuals would be charged with “theft, fraud and possession of stolen goods.”See Also:Olive Oil Consumption Slumps in Europe as High Prices Persist
During the raids, the Guardia Civil also seized several tanks containing at least 6,000 liters of olive oil and documentation of more than 17,500 kilograms of stolen olives.
The operation started in January when a farmer from Brea de Tajo, southeast of Madrid, reported 8,400 kilograms of olives stolen.
Using information obtained from security devices on the farm and five others in the area that also reported thefts, the Guardia Civil apprehended five people transporting more than 140 kilograms of olives in early February. The suspects were detained after failing to provide paperwork proving the origin of the olives.
Widespread and well-organized olive thefts have become increasingly common in Spain as criminals take advantage of record-high olive oil prices.
According to Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, olive oil prices continue steadily rising. Ministry data show that extra virgin olive oil prices at the origin and virgin olive oil prices at the origin rose again at the beginning of March.
Extra virgin olive oil is selling for €528.72 per 100 kilograms, a slight increase compared to the previous week, 28 percent above the start of the crop year and nearly double what prices were two years ago.
Virgin olive oil prices – now €491.96 per 100 kilograms – have risen in a similar fashion. Refined olive oil and lampante olive oil prices fell at the beginning of March but are also well above what they were last year and the year before.
As a result, olive growers from Granada to Madrid have reported a wave of thefts this year. Along with stolen olives, thefts often result in damage to trees which can prevent them from developing olives in the following crop year.
Authorities have stepped up their efforts to combat olive thefts in the past two years. Last year, the Guardia Civil recovered nearly 204,000 kilograms of stolen olives in the Andalusian province of Jaén, dismantling two organized criminal networks.
However, agricultural associations say reporting thefts is slow, time-consuming and rarely results in compensation. Therefore, they believe the amount of theft is far higher due to many farmers failing to report thefts.