In a new operation coordinated by Europol, European investigators have successfully prevented the widespread distribution of counterfeit and illegal plant protection products. A total of more than 120 tons of dangerous agricultural products have been confiscated and secured. Follow-up investigations are ongoing.

During the 10-day operation codenamed Silver Axe II, European law enforcement authorities checked approximately 940 consignments of suspicious plant protection products and confiscated a total of over 120 tons of illicit pesticides. The inspections were carried out by investigators at major airports and sea ports, as well as along the land borders of the 16 participating EU countries*. Investigators from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Poland were among those involved in the operation. In around 50 cases, further investigations have been initiated.

According to the investigators, the seized pesticides could have been used to spray almost 5,000 square kilometers of agricultural land, equalling an area around twice the size of Luxembourg. Farmers in Europe were sold the counterfeit products via the internet or through mobile dealers with the dangerous imitations mainly originating in China. In addition to counterfeit plant protection products, investigators also confiscated pesticides due to substandard quality, unauthorised or unknown ingredients, or incorrectly declared chemical substances.

“Pesticides like all high value goods are targeted by counterfeiters. But unlike fake shoes or t-shirts, counterfeit and illegal pesticides do present a very real risk to people’s health and the environment. There has to be a zero tolerance policy for such criminal activities,” said Graeme Taylor, ECPA’s Director of Public Affairs.

During the course of the operation, Europol and the national investigators were supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) as well as various industry associations, such as CropLife International, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) and the European Crop Care Association (ECCA). In order to facilitate effective exchange between the authorities and economic representatives involved, Europol collected all findings obtained in the participating countries, analysed the information and passed the resulting intelligence to all relevant parties involved in the actions.

“This operation demonstrates once again that working with coordinated efforts is the key element for successful results against criminal businesses.Our contributions based on the intelligence exchange and data processing will undoubtedly facilitate other operational successes of this kind in the future,” said Wil van Gemert, Europol’s Deputy Executive Director of Operations.

In Germany, for example, large quantities of counterfeit pesticides have previously been confiscated in the port of Hamburg (we reported). In a single action, customs investigators confiscated around 200 tons of fake pesticides worth around 15 million euros. Customs experts credit the enormous find to the port’s extensive connections with China.

*Countries involved in Silver Axe II: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Sources: Europol, HNA