Zimbabwe was among 77 countries worldwide that recently participated in an International Criminal Police Organisations (Interpol) seven-month operation, which resulted in over US$40 million worth of potentially dangerous fake food and drinks being seized.
The latest Operation Opson IX, which was conducted between December 2019 and last month, saw the disruption of 19 organised crime groups and arrest of 407 individuals globally.
Zimbabwe has been a member of Interpol since November 13, 1980.
Among the items discovered were dairy products contaminated with bacteria, meat from illegally slaughtered animals and food products falsely labelled as medicinal cures.
The operation, which was coordinated by Interpol and the European Union (EU) law enforcement agency (Europol), also resulted in more than 12 000 tonnes of illegal and potentially harmful items being recovered from shops, markets and during transport checks.
Police, customs, national food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 77 countries took part in the operation.
According to Interpol, highlighting the criminal links between different types of counterfeit items, authorities discovered thousands of fake medical products, including disinfectants and some 17 000 false Covid-19 testing kits.
In fact, the operation demonstrated how global distribution routes, both legal and illegal, have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seizures of expired food items or where the expiry dates had been altered were significantly higher than during previous Opson operations — possibly a sign of criminals capitalising on the disruption of food supply chains caused by national lockdowns.
Interpol secretary general Dr Jürgen Stock said; “As countries around the world continue their efforts to contain Covid-19, the criminal networks distributing these potentially dangerous products show only their determination to make a profit.
“The scale and variety of food and drink seized during this operation serves as a reminder for members of the public to be vigilant about what they buy, and the need for continued vigilance and action by law enforcement.”
Other frauds connected to the pandemic were discovered, including a shipment of seafood seized in South Africa and originating from Asia which was falsely declared as personal protective equipment.
As in past operations, counterfeit and adulterated alcohol continued to be a global concern with over US$20 million worth of illicit alcoholic beverages taken out of circulation, including 5 000 litres of vodka smuggled in a trailer in Norway.
Europol’s executive director Mrs Catherine De Bolle said; “In times of crises, criminals always look for new ways to abuse consumers and increase their illegal profit to the harm of public safety. Counterfeit and substandard food is not only deceitful to consumers but can also pose a significant threat to their health.
“Our annual Operation Opson shows in its ninth year that co-operation between law enforcement, regulatory authorities and the private sector is crucial to protect both consumers and businesses from the harm criminals try to put on our plates.”
In addition to the fake food and drink, other illicit products recovered included cosmetics, footwear, clothing, handbags, car parts, electronics, tobacco and medicines, worth an estimated US$ 3.1 million.
Other countries that participated during the operation include Albania, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Eswatini, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States and Zambia.