Tonnes of illicit foods seized across Europe in INTERPOL-Europol led operation

6 December 2011

Hundreds of tonnes of fake and substandard food and drink including champagne, cheese, olive oil and coffee have been seized in an INTERPOL-Europol coordinated operation across 10 countries, effectively disrupting the organized criminal gangs behind this high profit-low risk activity which undermines legitimate business and puts the safety of consumers at risk.

Operation Opson (28 November – 4 December) resulted in the recovery of more than 13,000 bottles of substandard olive oil, 30 tonnes of fake tomato sauce, around 77,000 kg of counterfeit cheese, more than 12,000 bottles of substandard wine worth EUR 300,000, five tonnes of substandard fish and seafood, nearly 30,000 counterfeit candy bars. The sale of fake/substandard caviar via the Internet is also under investigation.

The week-long operation involved police, customs and national food regulatory bodies in addition to partners from the private sector and saw checks carried out in airports, seaports, shops and flea markets across the 10 participating countries.

Consumers buying these goods, either knowingly or unknowingly, are putting their health at risk as the counterfeit food and drink are not subject to any manufacturing quality controls and are transported or stored without proper regard to hygiene standards.

“One of the main goals of this operation was to protect the public from potentially dangerous fake and substandard food and drinks, which is a threat that most people are not even aware of,” said Simone Di Meo, Criminal Intelligence Officer with INTERPOL’s Intellectual Property Rights programme and coordinator for Operation Opson.

“Criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them, and this type of operation demonstrates the determination by law enforcement and the private sector to stop this type of criminality,” added Mr Di Meo.

Besides assisting with the planning of the operation over the last six months, Europol provided operational support by deploying teams in the port of Rotterdam to assist Dutch customs and at the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon.

“The high number of counterfeit and substandard food seized is worrying and it shows the need for close cooperation among law enforcement agencies to stop criminals active in this type of crime. We will now assist our cooperation partners with further investigations,” said Chris Vansteenkiste, project manager in the Intellectual Property Crime Team at Europol.

Operation Opson (meaning food in ancient Greek) had three key aims:

  • Raise awareness of the dangers posed by counterfeit and substandard foods;
  • Establish partnerships with the private sector to provide a cohesive response to this type of crime;
  • Protect consumers by seizing and destroying substandard foods and identifying the criminals behind these networks.

Investigations are continuing and the final results from Operation Opson will be released upon their conclusion.

The countries which took part are Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The Democratic Republic of Congo participated as an observer, with a view to conducting a pilot operation in Africa next year.