Operation Opson IV was a joint Interpol and Europol investigation

Thousands of tonnes of fake food and drink seized

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Officials seized a modified car with hidden compartments to smuggle fake alcohol in Hungary
Officials seized a modified car with hidden compartments to smuggle fake alcohol in Hungary
More than 2,500 tonnes of counterfeit and illicit food have been seized in 47 countries as part of a joint Interpol and Europol operation.

Operation Opson IV found fake food and drink including mozzarella, strawberries, eggs, cooking oil and dried fruit from December to January.

It resulted in a number of arrests across the globe and investigations are continuing.

Last year, Operation Opson III found nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks and more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food.

Counterfeit alcohol among most seized

Of the nearly 275,000 litres of drinks recovered in the latest investigation, counterfeit alcohol was among the most seized. One example was in the UK where a plant making fake brand-name vodka was raided.

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Spanish authorities identified a company selling coffee labelled as 100% Arabica which was a mix of different low quality coffees

Officers discovered more than 20,000 empty bottles ready for filling, hundreds of empty five-litre antifreeze containers used to make the counterfeit alcohol, and a reverse osmosis unit used to remove the chemical’s colour and smell.

Italian officials seized 31 tonnes of seafood being sold as fresh but which had been frozen before being doused with a chemical substance containing citric acid, phosphate and hydrogen peroxide to make the catch appear freshly caught.

In South Sudan an unlicensed water bottling plant was shut down and Egyptian authorities seized 35 tonnes of fake butter and dismantled a factory producing fake tea.

In Uganda, police seized bottles of fake whisky and in Rwanda officers raided a shop selling fake beer where genuine bottles previously collected were re-filled for sale with a locally brewed product.

Health and safety risk

Michael Ellis, head of Intepol’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit, said fake and sub-standard food and drink pose a real threat to health and safety.

“People are at serious risk and in some cases dying because of the greed of criminals whose sole concern is to make money.

“Through this operation, thousands of tonnes of potentially hazardous food and drink have been taken out of circulation.”

The unit coordinated activities between the world police body’s participating countries.

Authorities in Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay focused on border control points.

In addition to attempting to evade paying duties, goods are often transported, packaged or stored in conditions which may pose health risks to consumers, said Interpol.

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Some 10kg of caviar was found by French customs in passenger luggage at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris

An illegal slaughterhouse was shut down in Hungary, where officials also seized a car which had been modified to incorporate hidden compartments to smuggle fake alcohol.

An investigation is ongoing in Norway following the seizure of counterfeit water bottles.

Some 85 tonnes of meat illegally imported into Thailand without testing to ensure it complied with health and safety regulations was destroyed, and police dismantled a criminal network producing fake whisky and seized nearly 20,000 litres.

Chris Vansteenkiste, head of Europol’s Focal Point Copy, who coordinated activities in Europe, said cooperation at national and international level is indispensable to disrupt the criminal gangs. 

“This year again, the results from Opson clearly reflect the threat that food fraud represents, as it affects all types of products and all regions of the world.”  ​ 

Countries which took part are: Austria, Belgium, Benin, Belarus, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burundi, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Uruguay, UK, USA and Vietnam.

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