Investigators of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and officials from Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, and Spain have broken up an international criminal network. A total of around 340,000 bottles of counterfeit rum were seized, and the value of the seized counterfeits is estimated at around 4.5 million euros, according to authorities.
The internationally operating criminal organization reportedly produced the counterfeit spirits in the Dominican Republic, for instance; then, after bottling and labeling, shipped them via Honduras and Guatemala to the European Union, as the authorities established in joint investigations. Fake labels came e.g. from China, and the primary target market for the counterfeit alcoholic beverages was Spain. The fakes entered the EU mainly via the Netherlands, from where they were transported on to Spain. The counterfeit labels illegally featured brand names of various manufacturers.
Authorities had been investigating the case for several years. During this period, OLAF cooperated, among others, with the Spanish Guardia Civil, which monitored imports into Spain from a national perspective. Eventually, authorities had already seized around 225,000 counterfeit bottles of rum in late 2019 and early 2020; 147,000 of these bottles were from a warehouse in the Netherlands and were destined for onward transport to Spain. Further affected countries were brought in during the investigations, resulting in several seizures and the dismantling of an illegal bottling plant. During the operation, officials inspected hundreds of suspicious shipments, based in part on intelligence provided by authorities in Guatemala. In turn, leads from OLAF to authorities in Honduras enabled local law enforcement to dismantle an illegal production facility for the bottles that were used. „I am glad that OLAF, with its international experience, could act as a pivot in a case with such cross-border dimensions – and this despite the coronavirus pandemic that turned the usual on-the-spot checks and meetings into online exchanges“, said Ville Itälä, Director-General of OLAF.
Last year, OLAF and Latin American authorities already recorded massive seizure successes based on an intensified partnership between Europe and America in the fight against counterfeiting.