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Global police swoop seizes millions in fake food, drink

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 07:11
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Some 2,500 tonnes of fake and substandard food and more than 275,000 litres of fake or diluted alcohol - enough to fill more than 1,000 bathtubs - were confiscated.

[PARIS] A global police crackdown on counterfeit produce has netted thousands of tonnes of fake food and drink, including imitation caviar, Interpol said Monday.

Operation Opson 4 was run by Interpol and its EU sister agency Europol in 47 countries during December and January, 20 of them within the European Union.

Some 2,500 tonnes of fake and substandard food and more than 275,000 litres of fake or diluted alcohol - enough to fill more than 1,000 bathtubs - were confiscated.

The haul included 20,000 litres of fake whisky in Thailand, false malt in Uganda and fake beer in Rwanda. In Britain, police shut down an imitation vodka factory, where nearly 20,000 empty bottles were ready to be filled, Lyon-based Interpol said.

French customs uncovered dubious Chinese caviar in boxes marked "Aquitaine caviar" after one of France's most famous seafood-producing regions, as well as 17 tonnes of krill meat hidden in containers in the Channel port of Le Havre.

In Italy, the carabinieri busted a mozzarella trafficking ring in the southern Salerno region that made the famous cheese from sour milk produced in Eastern Europe.

In Tuscany, police discovered defrosted rotten fish and shellfish sprayed with a mix of citric acid, phosphate and hydrogen to mask its decay.

The two-month-long swoop targeted shops, markets, airports, harbours and industrial zones and involved police and customs officers as well as public and private consumer watchdogs.

The cross-border syndicates preyed mainly on alcoholic beverages, seafood and meat, Interpol said.

"Fake and substandard food and diluted, poor quality beverages are a real health and safety threat," said Mike Ellis, who heads the Interpol unit that tracks the trafficking of illicit goods.

"People take significant risks and sometimes die because of criminals' greed," he said.

Colonel Bruno Manin, head of the French police's unit involved in Opson 4, said it was best to avoid luxury products offered at bargain-basement prices.

"When a high-end product is offered at three to four times cheaper than in the shop it's better to resist the lure," Col Manin warned.

Trafficking in fake food and drink appeals to criminals as it produces hefty profits and poses a low risk, especially when the deal is done online.

"The Internet is definitely a strong accelerator for these crimes," as it makes it difficult to track fraudsters perpetrating these crimes, Col Manin said.

AFP