Italian police uncover major wine fraud

Italian police have uncovered a wine fraud ring, responsible for faking more than a million litres of wine. Barnaby Eales has the story.

Italian police made a dawn raid on suspected fraudsters
Italian police made a dawn raid on suspected fraudsters

Italian police have dismantled a wine fraud organisation, which produced and commercialised more than a million litres of fake wine.

In dawn raids, 28 premises and homes in several Italian regions, five Italians were arrested on Wednesday 22nd January. Police said a wine co-operative in Oltrepo Pavese and several winemakers had worked together using large quantities of sugar, additives and illicit grapes to make fake Oltrepo Pavese DOC (PDO) and PGI wines.

Alberto Carini, chairman of the wine co-operative, Cantina Sociale di Canneto Pavese in Oltrepo Pavese and Aldo Venco, the vice-chairman of the Lombardia-Liguria regional branch of Italy’s winemakers association, Assoenologi, were among those arrested, several Italian newspapers said.

In a statement, the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s tax and fraud police said: “Our complex investigation, which lasted more than year enabled use to discover how the top management of the Cantina Canneto together with entrusted winemakers commercialised supposedly DOC (PDO) and PGI wines, that were actually counterfeited in terms of quality, quantity and origin.”

Two further people were ordered to report to police. 

Invoices were falsified, as was the harvest declaration of the 2018 vintage, in which supplier growers allegedly colluded with the organisation.

Police said large quantities of substances prohibited by industry standards, including inverted sugar and water and carbon dioxide were illegally used in the production of wines that had been blended with non-DOC and non-PGI lower quality wine to increase production volumes.

It said the criminal organisation used flavourings in an attempt to imitate the aromatic profile and taste of Oltrepo Pavese DOC and PGI wines. Some were falsely labelled as organic wines.

The arrests stem from a police investigation launched into alleged irregularities at the Canneto Pavese Co-operative in relation to the production declaration of the 2018 vintage.

Prosecutors subsequently authorised police to bug phones and use video surveillance on suspects and premises, which led to the detection of an official shortfall of 1.2m litres of wine, Italian police said in the statement. It is uncertain whether any of the fake wine was exported.

Speaking at press conference on the day of the arrests, prosecutor, Giorgio Reposo said: “Unfortunately it is sad to note that, just a few years since the last investigation (in 2014) into false DOC wines in Oltrepo Pavese, which involved around 200 people, lessons have not been learnt.”

The arrests were made just two days after Italian police, acting on a separate judicial order, reportedly seized 10m litres of alleged fake wine in Lecce, southern Italy – that raid on several wine associations was linked to the arrests of 11 Italians in operation Ghost Wine last summer.

Barnaby Eales

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