Africa / Middle East

Turkey Accused of Selling Stolen Syrian Olive Oil as Its Own

Several different groups ranging from politicians to non-governmental organizations and news outlets have documented the alleged plunder of Syrian olive oil.

Olive groves outside of Afrin. Photo courtesy of Bertramz.
Jan. 15, 2019
By Daniel Dawson
Olive groves outside of Afrin. Photo courtesy of Bertramz.

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The gov­ern­ment of Turkey has been accused of steal­ing olives from neigh­bor­ing Syria, press­ing them into oil and sell­ing that oil to Euro­pean Union coun­tries, includ­ing Spain, labeled as Turk­ish olive oil.

These rev­e­la­tions came to light after an exhaus­tive inves­tiga­tive report from Span­ish news­pa­per El Público, Turk­ish gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments obtained and pub­lished by Firat News Agency (ANF), obser­va­tions from the United King­dom-based Syr­ian Obser­va­tory for Human Rights and infor­ma­tion seen by a Swiss politi­cian.

The Syr­ian Obser­va­tory learned that thou­sands of olive oil tanks were stolen from olive com­pres­sors in the Afrin coun­try­side, by fac­tions oper­at­ing in the Olive Branch’ oper­a­tion, and they were sold in sev­eral mar­kets.- Syr­ian Obser­va­tory for Human Rights observer based in Afrin

In Turk­ish-occu­pied Afrin, the olive groves are being pil­laged by both Turk­ish forces and the mili­tias they sup­port,” Bern­hard Guhl, a Swiss Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) from the coun­try’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Demo­c­ra­tic Party, said. The olives they steal have been sold to Spain, and the sale will con­tinue.”

Turkey invaded the north­west­ern Syr­ian province of Aleppo, in which Afrin is located, in Jan­u­ary 2018 in an effort to pro­tect its inter­ests in the region. Known, as Oper­a­tion Olive Branch, the effort was meant to help sta­bi­lize the region, but many in the area say that Turkey is exploit­ing Afrin for eco­nomic gain. Turkey is the third largest exporter of olive oil to the Euro­pean Union, after Tunisia and Morocco.

See more: Olive Oil Fraud

Saleh Ibo, the Agri­cul­tural Coun­cil Deputy Chair­per­son for the dis­trict of Afrin, told AFN that Turkey has made at least $80 mil­lion from the seized Syr­ian olives.

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They have also been con­fis­cat­ing the fields and olive groves of peo­ple who have had to flee Afrin due to the Turk­ish state vio­lence in the months since the inva­sion,” he said. We can say that 80 per­cent of the olives in Afrin are being taken to Turkey with no cost through the [para­mil­i­tary groups] and the coun­cils they formed.”

Accord­ing to local sources who spoke with El Público, the Syr­ian olives are pressed in local mills that have been taken over by these para­mil­i­tary groups. The result­ing oil is then trans­ported over the bor­der to Turkey where it is blended with and labeled as Turk­ish olive oil, before it is then sent on to Euro­pean Union coun­tries, some­thing that has been made much eas­ier after a recent trade deal was signed between the two.

This infor­ma­tion has not been con­firmed inde­pen­dently by Olive Oil Times. How­ever, it lines up with what sources for the Syr­ian Obser­va­tory for Human Rights have seen on the ground in Afrin. The group mon­i­tors human rights abuses in the coun­try, which is enter­ing its ninth year of civil war.

The Syr­ian Obser­va­tory learned that thou­sands of olive oil tanks were stolen from olive com­pres­sors in Afrin coun­try­side, by fac­tions oper­at­ing in the Olive Branch’ oper­a­tion, and they were sold in sev­eral mar­kets,” the Obser­va­tory said in a state­ment on its web­site.

The Syr­ian Obser­va­tory for Human Rights mon­i­tored the con­fis­ca­tion of thou­sands of olive oil tanks and the olive har­vest, and the cut­ting of hun­dreds of trees to be sold as fire­wood,” the state­ment con­tin­ued.

Accord­ing to inter­views con­ducted with Turk­ish sources by El Público and the doc­u­ments released by ANF, at least 5,000 tons of olive oil have been pro­duced in this man­ner, which in today’s mar­ket is worth about $80 mil­lion. The same fig­ure that Ibo esti­mated.

Of the $80 mil­lion, as much as $22 mil­lion has been returned to the var­i­ous para­mil­i­tary groups and coun­cils, which have been work­ing with Turkey to main­tain con­trol of the region. Local sources believe that Turkey and these allies are prepar­ing to con­tinue this process in the future.

While Turkey has not for­mally acknowl­edged these accu­sa­tions, Bekir Pakdemirli, the Turk­ish Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, told state media late last year that the gov­ern­ment would be con­fis­cat­ing olives grown in the region in order to pre­vent them from being processed and sold by the Kur­dish forces that pre­vi­ously occu­pied the area.

Turkey views the Kurds, who are spread across Turkey, Syria as well as Iraq and have been seek­ing an inde­pen­dent state of their own for the past 70 years, as var­i­ous ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions. The Kurds have been staunch U.S. allies in the fight against the so-called Islamic State.

A Turk­ish board mem­ber for the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil and a board mem­ber of the Aegean Exporters Asso­ci­a­tion both declined to com­ment on this story. The Turk­ish Olive and Olive Oil Pro­duc­ers Asso­ci­a­tion did not respond to mul­ti­ple requests for com­ment.

Mean­while, in Spain there has been no for­mal com­ments on these rev­e­la­tions by the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Indus­trial Pack­ers and Edi­ble Oil Refin­ers (Anierac) nor the Span­ish Asso­ci­a­tion of the Olive Oil Export­ing Indus­try and Com­merce (Aso­liva).

How­ever, Luis Escalante, who runs the small Andalu­sian olive oil com­pany Aurum, told El Público that he had received sus­pi­cious sales solic­i­ta­tions from Turkey recently. Escalante has pur­chased olive oil from the Mid­dle East for many years and said that noth­ing like this has hap­pened before.

Only a few days ago an export com­pany from Adana called Ozcelic Trad­ing con­tacted us to offer us oil, and the truth is that this is not the usual thing,” Escalante said. Adana is located two hours away from the Syr­ian bor­der.

Spain is seen as an ideal des­ti­na­tion for Turk­ish olive oil, par­tic­u­larly fraud­u­lent oil, because such large amounts are imported and exported each year that it is hard for cus­toms agents to check all of it.

It is not sur­pris­ing that the Turks have resorted to Spain,” Escalante said.

He points out that Span­ish com­pa­nies also have been known to re-export oil from Tunisia and Morocco labeled as Span­ish olive oil. Last year, DCoop was crit­i­cized for import­ing and export­ing prac­tices per­tain­ing to olive oil acquired in Morocco.

Nor is it unlikely that there are Span­ish com­pa­nies involved in these ille­gal activ­i­ties because in our coun­try there is a long tra­di­tion of import­ing oils from coun­tries like Tunisia, to be mar­keted later as their own to third coun­tries,” Escalante said.

Guhl, the Swiss MP, said now that aware­ness of this type of fraud is increas­ing, it is imper­a­tive that Euro­pean Union coun­tries work together to stop it.

It does­n’t mat­ter if the final des­ti­na­tion is Spain or Ger­many,” he said. I believe that it is very impor­tant that the coun­try or coun­tries con­cerned launch a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion to deter­mine whether com­pa­nies are trad­ing stolen olives or olive oil.”

At the time of writ­ing, no crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion had yet been launched by Span­ish or Euro­pean author­i­ties.





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