Market inspectors and police officers in Pudong, China, have arrested five suspects following an investigation into a scheme to make millions of dollars by changing the expiration dates on bottles of foreign olive oil and then selling them to unsuspecting distributors.
Authorities seized about 1,300 cartons containing roughly 10,000 bottles of oil from two warehouses. According to police, the plot would have netted some US$1.32 million in illegal profits if the bottles had been sold.
See more: Olive Oil Fraud
The suspects allegedly had already sold some bottles with fake expiration labels in 12 Chinese cities and provinces. The profits from those initial sales were estimated to be close to US$200,000.
Three brands of olive oil were caught up in the scheme — San Giuliano and Clemente from Italy, and Natura from Spain, according to the press reports.
The Shanghai Daily newspaper reported that one of the suspects said she was following orders from her boss at San Giuliano. That suspect, identified only by the name Chen, told the newspaper that some of the faked labels were sent to her from Italy, while others were printed in China.
In an emailed response to Olive Oil Times, a San Giuliano representative said, “We have learnt about this incident only from your email. Before it, this scenario was totally unknown to us and we still have no idea of what is going on. We will get back to you with our comments as soon as possible.”
The Xinmin Evening News reported that the scheme began in 2013.
A prosecutor told reporters that the suspects faced up to two years in prison, but that the sentences could be longer if authorities rule that people’s health was at risk from the expired oil.
The arrests come several months after a Taiwanese billionaire who sells foods throughout China and much of the rest of Asia was sentenced for selling adulterated olive oil.