Spanish Senators Demand Investigation of Turkish Imports

The search is on to determine whether stolen Syrian olive oil has been imported into Spain under the guise of 'Made in Turkey.' A criminal investigation could be coming.

Moncloa, the seat of Spanish government.
Feb. 4, 2019
By Daniel Dawson
Moncloa, the seat of Spanish government.

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Two Span­ish sen­a­tors have for­mally asked the Gov­ern­ment and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion if either entity is aware of any stolen Syr­ian olive oil cur­rently being imported and sold in Spain.

We will send you the oil as Turk­ish ori­gin. We send it as if it were made in Turkey.- An anony­mous seller of stolen Syr­ian olive oil

Ear­lier this month, numer­ous reports that Turkey was ille­gally smug­gling Syr­ian olive oil over its bor­der to be pack­aged and sold as Turk­ish olive oil were made pub­lic. Bekir Pakdemirli, the Turk­ish Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, has acknowl­edged that the theft of Syr­ian olive oil is hap­pen­ing, but declined to com­ment on where the olive oil ended up or how it is being used.

See more: Olive Oil Fraud

The pair of sen­a­tors – Car­les Mulet Gar­cía and Jordi Navar­rete Pla, both of whom are mem­bers Com­pro­mís, a Valen­cian polit­i­cal coali­tion – also tabled a motion ask­ing that the gov­ern­ment turn over sev­eral recent cus­toms reports that would iden­tify when, where and how much Turk­ish olive oil has been imported to Spain since the smug­gling began.

Valen­cia is a major port of entry for goods imported to Spain from Turkey and the Mid­dle East.

In order to avoid these abuses and the pos­si­ble com­mer­cial­iza­tion of a stolen oil com­ing from the war in Syria, the coali­tion has demanded reports of imports of olive oil pre­pared by the Cus­toms Depart­ment with a break­down by coun­tries of ori­gin and report of the Span­ish Con­sumer Agency, Food Safety and Nutri­tion on the trace­abil­ity of Turk­ish oil, which enjoys advan­ta­geous trade agree­ments with the EU,” the coali­tion said in an offi­cial state­ment.


Compromís’s Euro­pean part­ner, Pri­mav­era Euro­pea, has tabled a sim­i­lar motion with the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

Swiss Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Bern­hard Guhl, was the first Euro­pean politi­cian to have brought the ques­tion of what Switzer­land will do if it finds Swiss com­pa­nies are involved in the ille­gal trade before his gov­ern­ment.

Switzer­land will only do some­thing if Swiss com­pa­nies are involved in the trade of these stolen olives,” Guhl told Olive Oil Times. But our gov­ern­ment has to answer my ques­tions, so it has to try to get the infor­ma­tion about the olives. I’m still wait­ing for that answer.”

Guhl reck­ons that he will have those answers by March. Mulet Gar­cía and Navar­rete Pla appear to be fol­low­ing suit in Spain.

How­ever, SOIVRE, Spain’s Offi­cial Ser­vice of Inspec­tion, Sur­veil­lance and Reg­u­la­tion of Exports, have said that they do not have the ade­quate tech­nol­ogy to deter­mine the prove­nance of imported olive oil.

Ask the Min­istry [of Agri­cul­ture] to see if they have any car­bon test to find out the ori­gin of an oil,” a SOIVRE employee told El Público, the Span­ish news orga­ni­za­tion that broke the story orig­i­nally. Here we only prac­tice the nec­es­sary ana­lyzes to com­ply with the EU reg­u­la­tions, and among them, there is none to con­firm their prove­nance in a reli­able man­ner.”

Deter­min­ing the prove­nance of imported olive oil, they said, is up to com­pa­nies to pro­vide in offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion that comes in with each ship­ment. This has changed the focus of Mulet Gar­cía and Navar­rete Plas’ efforts to a poten­tial crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion.

One hun­dred per­cent of the imports that enter Spain are sub­ject to dou­ble the tests required by Euro­pean law,” Rafael Pico Lapuente, the direc­tor of the Span­ish Asso­ci­a­tion of the Olive Oil Export­ing Indus­try and Com­merce (Aso­liva), told El Público.

Regard­ing the cer­tainty of the ori­gin, the only guar­an­tee is the trace­abil­ity doc­u­ments,” he added. Of course, if there has been some kind of fal­si­fi­ca­tion of cre­den­tials, the respon­si­bil­ity would be the Gov­ern­ment of Turkey or the Turk­ish com­pa­nies that took part in it, and not the Span­ish com­pa­nies that hypo­thet­i­cally could acquire with­out their knowl­edge any Syr­ian prod­uct with a cer­tifi­cate of Turk­ish ori­gin.”

Accord­ing to Pico Lapuente, the lat­est report from the Span­ish government’s cus­toms office, which cor­re­sponds to Octo­ber, showed no Turk­ish oil had been imported into Spain.

We will have to be alert to upcom­ing reports and ask Turkey to com­ply with the leg­is­la­tion,” Pico Lapuente said.

How­ever, there is evi­dence that Turkey is not com­ply­ing with inter­na­tional law and has already sold tins of stolen Syr­ian olive oil to Cyprus and sev­eral of the Gulf States.

Accord­ing to an audio record­ing shown to Olive Oil Times and pub­lished by El Público, a buyer who said he was in Saudi Ara­bia is heard dis­cussing a sale of the stolen Syr­ian olive oil with a whole­saler in Turkey. The buyer does not men­tion where the final des­ti­na­tion of the olive oil will be.

Olive Oil Times has inde­pen­dently ver­i­fied what is being said in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Is the olive oil really from Afrin?,” the poten­tial buyer asks in Ara­bic.

Of course it is,” responds the seller. Nei­ther buyer nor seller are iden­ti­fied in the audio by name.

So you will send the olive oil from Turkey?,” the buyer asks. I’m ask­ing you these ques­tions because the imported oil to Europe will be sub­jected to the tax sys­tem.”

We will send you the oil as Turk­ish ori­gin,” the seller says. We send it as if it were made in Turkey.”

There are no con­firmed cases that stolen Syr­ian olive oil has yet been imported into any Euro­pean coun­tries.

Lev­ent Bil­ginogulları, the head of the Aegean Exporters Asso­ci­a­tion in Turkey, has denied that Turkey has exported any stolen olive oil to Europe at all.

Another part on all of these news arti­cles which are not cor­rect is that the packed oil is being exported to EU coun­tries,” he told Olive Oil Times. Due to eco­log­i­cal rea­sons, olive oil from Syria and South­east­ern Turkey is out­side of Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil norms, so it is not pos­si­ble to export them.”

Fer­ran Bar­ber, the inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who broke the news for El Público and has reported on these types of sto­ries for 25 years, told Olive Oil Times that he expects most of the stolen oil will now end up in the Gulf since the story has come to light. How­ever, he did not rule out that the stolen olive oil might have already made it into Spain or Italy.

It is for this rea­son – the fact that nobody really knows what has or has not hap­pened – that Mulet Gar­cía and Navar­rete Pla will con­tinue push­ing for answers from all the rel­e­vant author­i­ties and seek pun­ish­ments for any Span­ish or Euro­pean com­pa­nies that have broke inter­na­tional law.

This infor­ma­tion and these prac­tices con­cern the Span­ish olive sec­tor due to their poten­tial effects on its cred­i­bil­ity and their seri­ous­ness regard­ing food safety and con­sumer health,” Mulet Gar­cía said.

“[It is vital] to avoid abuses or fraud such as those described, which dis­cred­its our country’s world lead­er­ship of olive grow­ing and oil pro­duc­tion,” he added.

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