europol (6)

8388578865?profile=RESIZE_710x14 arrested in Spain and investigations underway in France.

The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), supported by the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale) and Europol have dismantled an organised crime group involved in the production, distribution and sale of alleged organic pistachios which did not meet required ecological standards. 

The operation began in 2019, with various reports of ecological certifications being misused on pistachios that did not adhere to set agricultural standards. The Spanish Civil Guard detected a mix of organic and non-organic pistachio nuts that contained pesticides (including glyphosate and chlorate), illegal under requisites imposed by the Spanish agricultural sector. 

The investigation uncovered that the illegal pesticides were being used to better the quality and quantity of the harvests and increase the monetary value of the production. Marketed as organic the nuts were sold for up to 80% over the retail price of non-organic pistachios. The nuts from the main Spanish distributor were also being sold in France under false organic certifications. 

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Europol and INTERPOL coordinated operation OPSON 2020 which targeted trafficking of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages. The ninth operation of its kind, it ran from December 2019 to June 2020 and involved law enforcement authorities from 83* countries and was also supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Commission, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), national food regulatory authorities and private sector partners.

Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world. The increasing online sale of such potentially dangerous products poses a significant threat to public health. Operation OPSON was created to combat organised crime involved in this area. This year’s operational activities have found a new disturbing trend to address: the infiltration of low-quality products into the supply chain, a development possibly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Condiments also a highly counterfeited product

This year’s operation OPSON led to the dismantling of 19 organised crime groups involved in food fraud and the arrests of 406 suspects. More than 26 000 checks were performed. As a result, about 12 000 tonnes of illegal and potentially harmful products worth about €28 million were seized. With more than 5 000 tonnes seized, animal food was the most seized product, followed by alcoholic beverages (more than 2 000 tonnes), cereals, grains and derived products, coffee and tea and condiments. Large amounts of saffron were seized: 90kg in Spain and 7kg in Belgium with an estimated value of more than €306 000. The US authorities seized 147kg of raw apricot kernel seeds sold as a cure for cancer. 


#1 Focus on dairy products

The project resulted in the seizures of 320 tonnes of smuggled or substandard dairy products. National authorities seized rotten milk and cheese which posed a threat to consumer health. Additionally, 210 tonnes of cheese were seized, which did not meet the conditions to be labelled with a protected geographic denomination.A Bulgarian investigation into an unregistered warehouse revealed seven samples of cheese tested positive for starch and E.coli. The authorities seized 3.6 tonnes of unsafe dairy products, which were supposed to be processed into melted cheese.

#2 Targeted action on olive oil

A total of 149 tonnes of cooking oil was seized as a result of this targeted action led by Greece. About 88 tonnes from the seizures were olive oil and were reported by Albania, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain. In Italy, during a check on a company producing olive oil, inspectors found a surplus of product, which was not registered in the official documents of the company, thus more than 66 tonnes of olive oil were seized.

#3 Targeted action on alcohol and wine

Law enforcement authorities, coordinated by OLAF, seized 1.2 million litres of alcoholic beverages, with the largest quantity being wine. Norwegian authorities seized more than 5 000 litres of vodka smuggled in a trailer.

#4 Targeted action on horse passports and horse meat

The operational activities focused on checks of documents of more than 157 000 horses from eight countries and about 117 tonnes of horse meat. Live animals and more than 17 tonnes of horse meat were seized from several slaughterhouses in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Inspections of slaughterhouses in several countries showed that about 20% of the foreign passports used for these horses showed signs of forgery. Competition horses with forged documents were also sent to slaughterhouses.

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6498960689?profile=RESIZE_400x The Italian NAS Carabinieri of Florence (Arma dei Carabinieri), supported by Europol, have closed down a network of wine counterfeiters, selling online fake premium Italian wines. Law enforcement officers carried out raids in eight Italian provinces (Avellino, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brescia, Como, Foggia, Pisa, Prato and Rome). Empty bottles of high quality wines were gathered from restaurants, and refilled with fake wine, then marketed on a big online auction platform. The wines were sold in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States, often ending in the glasses of unaware customers of wine bars and catering services. This action is part of operation OPSON IX. Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) coordinated OPSON IX, facilitated the information exchange and provided technical and analytical support to the participating countries. Europol’s IPC3 is co-funded by the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office) to combat intellectual property crime.

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3816977698?profile=RESIZE_710xAuthorities in Spain and Portugal, coordinated by Europol, have uncovered what they are calling a criminal network involving contaminated clams that were responsible for the food poisoning of at least 27 individuals in Spain. The investigation into the trafficking of contaminated clams resulted in dismantling this criminal network involving poachers, intermediaries and distribution companies, and the location of hideouts where harvested clams were stored in Portugal. The criminal network was active for at least a year earning up to €9 million with more than 1 000 tonnes of illegally caught clams. The illegal clams were harvested in Portugal, and then moved to Spain for the most lucrative seasons – the summer and the end-of-the-year holidays. After a brief clean up, the contaminated clams were sold in markets and restaurants. Washing the clams eleminated the bacteria (E. coli), but did not eliminate the viruses (Norovirus genogroup I and II and Hepatitis A). 

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EUIPO 2017 is a situation report that establishes that organised criminal groups are involved in IPR crime. It also finds that EU-based criminal gangs involved in distributing counterfeit goods rely predominantly on manufacturers based abroad, but then organise importation, transportation, storage and distribution of the counterfeit goods within the EU. The majority of counterfeit goods come from China: the development of the Silk Road and the corresponding increasing use of rail and maritime transport between China and the EU support also new threats in the IPR crime landscape. 

The report also looks at the falsification of certification schemes such as organic, and the value of falsely labelled geographical indication products e.g. PDOs. Most commonly affected products are wine, spirits, cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables and cereals.

Read more details at: Headlines on Europol report on counterfeiting

Read the report at: EUIPO 2017 on counterfeiting

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Ten thousand tonnes and one million litres of fake food and drink seized in largest ever global operation in 57 countries  during Joint Interpol - Europol Operation "Opson V" from November 2015 to February 2016. The Europol news release gives an overview of food fraud operations across the world.

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