Operation Opson: Counterfeit alcohol tops list

Counterfeit alcohol topped seizure list followed by meat and seafood. Picture: INTERPOL

Nearly 26 million litres of fake alcohol has been seized as part of an INTERPOL-Europol operation.

Counterfeit alcohol was the most seized product, followed by meat and seafood in the sixth Operation Opson, which involved 61 countries.

More than 9,800 tonnes and 26.4 million litres of fake food and drink worth an estimated €230m were seized during 50,000 checks at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

Products detained ranged from alcohol, mineral water, seasoning cubes, seafood and olive oil, to luxury goods such as caviar.

The totals are down from last year for food and up for beverages as more than 11 tonnes and nearly 1.5 million litres of items were seized by 57 countries. 

Results in the fifth Operation Opson found fruit and vegetables were the second most counterfeited category with alcohol a high-risk as more than 385,000 litres of fake drinks were seized.

Issues in Europe

Chris Vansteenkiste, head of Europol's Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition - IPC3, said it saw some new trends, such as counterfeit mineral water.

“Once again the good cooperation on a European and global level was paramount to disrupt the criminal gangs behind the illicit trade in counterfeit and unregulated food and drink."

Italian authorities seized more than 266,000 litres of mineral water (almost 32,000 bottles) in Lazio imitating a registered trademark.

Labels and shapes of the containers were similar to genuine products. Investigations revealed the water came from the same source.

However, no market authorization had been granted and one person was arrested.

In Russia, police took action against illegal alcohol production and distribution networks. In Leningrad, officers found a factory producing and bottling sub-standard alcohol and using faked federal stamps.

Germany – hazelnut products

The German operation focused on undeclared peanuts, cashews and almonds in hazelnut products imported into the country.

When 1,300kg of roasted chopped hazelnuts were checked, German authorities detected 8% of mixed peanuts. In 500kg of hazelnut paste, up to 45% of mixed cashew nuts were found. In another hazelnut paste, 27% of mixed almonds were present.

As the products were not labeled as containing allergenic substances there was a potential health risk for allergy sufferers and they were withdrawn from the market.

Greek authorities discovered two illicit storage sites of alcohol last month.

The investigating team found products were smuggled mostly from Bulgaria to evade excise duties. Almost 1,300 litre of smuggled alcohol (vodka and whisky) was seized and five people arrested.

More than 300,000 cans of fish were held following a raid on a factory in Porto by the Portuguese Food Safety and Economic Authority (ASAE).

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration analysed olive oil sold in supermarkets to check compliance with labelling rules.

Results showed that numerous samples were not virgin olive oil as presented but blended or lampante oil. Most of the companies voluntarily removed the bottles from markets.

The plant’s license to process food had been withdrawn and illicit activities included repacking almost expired goods.

Other items seized included 16 jars of tomato sauce, 9,900 packing boxes, 24,730 labels and 700 kilos of salt.

Operation Opson VI ran between December 2016 and end of March this year.

Asia, Africa and Americas

Françoise Dorcier, coordinator of INTERPOL’s Illicit Goods and Global Health Programme, said the operation showed criminals will fake any food and drink with no thought to human cost as long as they make a profit.

“Whilst thousands of counterfeit goods have been taken out of circulation, we continue to encourage the public to remain vigilant about the products they buy.”

In Indonesia, the National Agency of Drug and Food Control discovered a factory producing fake condiments and sauces in unsanitary conditions.

Nearly 32,000 boxes worth an estimated €360,000 were recovered and tests showed they contained additives exceeding recommended maximum amounts.

Condiments was the most faked or illicitly traded product, representing 66% of all seizures, in the 2016 Operation Opson.

Peruvian authorities seized expired food and drinks including colorants, estimated at around €145,500.

More than 6kg of fat was found in poor storage conditions with insects and rats in the preparation area.

In Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control seized more than 51 litres of fake champagne.

The annual operation was supported by customs, police and national food regulatory bodies as well as the private sector.

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