THE Guardia Civil has apprehended nine people in connection with a criminal organisation that tried to distribute over 120 tonnes of fake olive oil.
The operation, entitled CLOROIL, came to a successful end when the Guardia Civil intervened to prevent the further distribution of the colossal amount of sunflower, avocado and palm oil that had been mixed with flavouring and colouring, with the resulting product looking and tasting similar to olive oil.
The police operation, conducted by the Organic Unit of the Judicial Police, took place in the provinces of Jaen, Granada and Cordoba; so far nine people have been arrested and a further two individuals are under investigation, including owners and managers of five private companies related to the oil industry.
The detainees have been charged with forgery and belonging to a criminal syndicate that operates against the interest of public health, the market and its consumers.
CLOROIL began when Guardia Civil agents, after periodic meetings with agricultural unions, farmers’ associations and manufacturers of olive oil, were alerted to the fact that some companies could be manipulating oil by mixing it with biodiesel fuel, with the intent to later distribute it as olive oil.
The agents then went on to establish a monitoring system to track the movements of trucks carrying this type of product.
They discovered that a company located in the province of Jaen was the recipient of several consignments of sunflower oil from France, palm oil from Ecuador, and avocado oil from Greece.
They also found that the company was acquiring flavourings and colourings; products that are not necessary for the activity the company was allegedly registered to do.
With this information, the Guardia Civil, in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Andalucía, initiated a search of the factory premises and administrative areas of the company. In addition, they sampled the products of four other companies located in the provinces of Jaen, Granada and Cordoba.
As a result of this audit, agents immobilized 120 tons of different oils; aroma of thyme, garlic aroma, 16 per cent fat-soluble magnesium chlorophyll and extensive documentation, which is currently being analysed.
The seized documents revealed the organisation’s practice of falsifying invoices, waybills and faking places of origin and destination; this prevented the traceability of large containers used to transport oil, which could have originated in the food industry, meaning another health hazard via possible presence of harmful residues.
This action has been of paramount importance to public safety; mixing oils of different natures to look like olive oil contains a risk for people, especially those showing sensitivity to certain substances and allergens (avocado or palm). As the olive oil was a fake, the presence of the allergen would not have been identified by the consumer and could potentially be fatal.
One of the methods used by the network to get the oil to the market was to produce extracts of olive oils using substances that had been impregnated with earth or diatoms, already discarded by other manufacturers after they had been used for eliminating solids and colloids.
Similarly, sunflower oil would simply be mixed with palm oil or avocado oil during the refining process, thereby obtaining a similar appearance to olive, only 15 per cent of which would then be added to the mixture.
Four of the detainees arrested in connection with the network already have criminal and police records for crimes such as forgery, food crime and fraud against consumers.