In a significant crackdown on food fraudsters across Europe, Operation OPSON XII led by Europol has resulted in the investigation of up to 100 individuals involved in food-related crimes. The Guardia Civil in Spain played a crucial role in this international operation, uncovering alarming instances of fraud within the food industry.
The operation primarily targeted illicit products, concentrating on alcoholic beverages, olive oil. Furthermore, it also focused on safeguarding Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indications (PGI).
Guardia Civil’s vigilance
Within this country, the Guardia Civil has made substantial progress in combating food fraud. Moreover, 13 alleged fraudsters have been apprehended, and an additional 87 are under investigation for their involvement in food-related scams. The Special Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) identified 1,294 administrative offenses, reflecting the extensive scope of the fraud.
Operation OPSON XII has seen collaboration from 25 countries, with 143 arrest warrants issued and 168 search orders executed. Notably, law enforcement agencies have reported 119 individuals. Consequently this has meant 6 criminal organisations engaged in fraudulent activities have now been dismantled.
Methods of deception
The fraudulent activities uncovered during the operation are diverse, ranging from falsifying import documents for substandard products to counterfeiting official seals on packaging. These deceptive practices have not only compromised the quality and safety of food products but also jeopardised consumer trust.
Moreover, these notable cases have been identified across Spain. The following shows the extent of the deception:
- Albacete: SEPRONA exposed a document forgery scheme, leading to the investigation of three individuals and two companies. Over a million kilograms of inverted sugar were seized, falsely labeled as grape derivatives and concentrated grape juice, intended for export to South Africa.
- Seville: The Guardia Civil investigated two individuals for offenses against public health, document forgery, and fraud. These individuals were involved in the sale of untraceable ham products, tampering with expiration dates. Furthermore, the operation resulted in the confiscation of 48,000 kilograms of hams and sausages, along with 3,000 other pieces.
- Zaragoza: Zaragoza’s law enforcement officials probed a criminal group involved in selling expired products. The investigation revealed illicit meat and seafood supply chains operating without necessary permits, falsifying labels. Eight individuals were arrested, and 48 are under investigation. Consequently, 25,000 kilograms of food items were located, seized, and destroyed.
- Badajoz: SEPRONA dismantled an organised group engaged in fraudulent olive oil sales in Andalucia and Extremadura. Nine individuals are under investigation for offenses against public health, with 67,000 litres of adulterated olive oil confiscated.
- Alicante: Multiple livestock farms in Alicante and Murcia were investigated for document forgery, offenses against public health, simulated crime, and receiving stolen property. Nine individuals were implicated, and therefore, 305 sheep and goats were seized.
Also read: Over 28 tons of food seized by Guardia Civil