ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Italian police said they have busted a crime ring exporting fake extra virgin olive oil to the United States, highlighting the mafia’s infiltration of Italy’s famed agriculture and food business.
Twelve people with links to the ‘Ndrangheta, the organized crime group based in the southern Calabria region, were arrested on Tuesday on a series of charges including mafia association and fraud, police said in a statement.
The gang shipped cheap olive pomace oil to the U.S. where it was re-labeled as the more expensive “extra virgin” variety, prized for its rich taste and health benefits, and distributed as such to retail stores in New Jersey, they said.
Italian crime syndicates earned an estimated 16 billion euros ($16.85 billion) in 2015 through illegal activities in the agriculture sector, up from 15 billions in 2014, according to Italy’s agricultural association, Coldiretti.
Besides counterfeiting products, gangs make money seizing control of farmland and firms, fixing prices, controlling distribution and through labor exploitation, studies say.
In 2015, crime groups forced more than 100,000 Italians and migrants to work long hours for little pay in fields across the country, according to a report by Italian General Confederation of Labor union (CGIL).