European Police Busts Fake Olive Oil Gang

European police authorities said on Tuesday they had busted a criminal network that sold fake olive oil in Germany and Italy.

carabinieriItalian Carabinieri inspecting tanks with fake olive oil (By Europol)The operation resulted in the arrest of 24 individuals and the seizure of 150,000 liters of fake olive oil in the region of Foggia in Southern Italy, Eurojust said.

Among those arrested was the network’s leader, who is considered to be the most important olive oil counterfeiter in Italy, Ton van Lierop, a Eurojust spokesperson, told OCCRP.

The network acquired large quantities of low quality olive and sunflower oils and sent them to  facilities to be “converted.” The gang added ingredients like chlorophyll, beta-carotene, and soya oil to the oils in order to change their colors and make them look like extra virgin olive oil.

Europol officials noted that the process was carried out in unsanitary conditions.

However no health problems or illnesses were reported due to the ingestion of the counterfeited olive oil, said van Lierop.

After the oil was processed it was sold on the German market, specifically targeting restaurant owners and shops in Stuttgart, Berlin, and Frankfurt, as well as in shops and supermarkets throughout Italy, according to a statement by Eurojust. The group sent lorries carrying 23,000 liters of the counterfeit oil to Germany every two weeks.

Europol officials noted that the group acquired the low quality oils at a price of about €1 (US $1.12) per liter and resold the processed product at prices ranging from €5 to €15 ($5.60 to $16.79). Estimates suggest that the group was earning approximately €8 million ($8.9 million) annually from the scheme.

Investigations into the crime network began in 2015, after the Italian Ministry of Health alerted authorities to the sale of counterfeit olive oil and the receival of a request for investigation by the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety.

The operation was carried out by forces from Europol, Eurojust, the Italian NAS Carabinieri, and the tribunal of Darmstadt in Germany, according to a Europol press release.