Global police swoop seizes millions in fake food, drink

THE HAGUE - A global police operation by Interpol and Europol has seized more than a thousand tonnes of fake food and drink worth millions of euros, Europol announced on Friday.

"More than 1,200 tonnes of fake and substandard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks have been seized," The Hague-based Europol said in a statement.

Operation Opson III targeted counterfeit schemes in 33 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia over December and January.

Europol said more than 131,000 litres of fake oil and vinegar - enough to fill 485 bathtubs - as well as some 80,000 biscuits and chocolate bars, 20 tonnes of spices and condiments and 45 tonnes of dairy products were impounded.

In Italy, agents rolled up an organised crime network making and distributing fake champagne, confiscating 60,000 bottles and fake labels, while in Bangkok, police seized more than 270 bottles of fake whisky after a raid on a Thai warehouse.

Spanish police detained 24 people after 4.5 tonnes of snails were illegally poached from a forest, while in the Philippines almost 150,000 fake stock cubes were seized.

In France, police shut down an illegal abattoir on the outskirts of Paris.

Colombian police confiscated fake food and drink valued some US$17.2 million (S$21.68 million).

"In total some 96 people were arrested or detained with investigations continuing in many countries," Europol said.

"Among the key aims of Operation Opson, which means 'food' in ancient Greek, are the identification of organised crime networks behind the trafficking... and to raise awareness about the dangers posed by counterfeit and substandard foods," it added.

"These results show the global character of this type of fraud and the necessity to tackle these crimes together on a national and international level," added Belgian food safety inspector Stijn Adriaenssen in the statement.