Spanish police arrest four in connection with major wine fraud

Spanish police have uncovered a major wine fraud operation, involving up to two million bottles of fake wine. Barnaby Eales reports on the unfolding situation.

Photo supplied by Guardia Civil police
Photo supplied by Guardia Civil police

Spanish police have arrested four people in Galicia, Spain, in connection with a major wine fraud operation. It involves the production of at least two million bottles of fake Spanish wine.

“Four men have been arrested in Ourense in Galicia and eleven industrial sites and wineries have been searched in Leon in the region of Castilla and Leon and in Lugo, Pontevedra and Ourense in Galicia,” a spokesman for the Guardia civil headquarters in Leon, told Meininger’s.

“Raids were carried-out on both wineries and warehouses,” the spokesman said. “Wines were exported internationally and sold in Spain. The wines lacked the characteristics mentioned on the label and the fake labels were used as a way of selling the wine at higher price,” he added.

Earlier today, Spain’s Guardia Civil police force announced it had dismantled a criminal organisation that bottled, sold and exported wine using fake PDO Bierzo and PGI Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla labels. Police also seized €335,000 ($374,095) in cash.

The spokesman and a source at the DO Bierzo wine board told Meininger’s that wine company Compañía Europea Exportadora de Vinos registered in Coles, near Ourense, in Galicia was implicated in the operation.

It is understood a director of the company was among those arrested.

The wine company describes itself as a winery, seller and exporter which sells more than 15m litres of wine each year, including wine from Castilla y Leon and Galicia. 

The company was unavailable for comment. Two other companies allegedly involved in the organisation, including Dirago and printing company Gráficas Gallegas, declined to make any comment to Meininger’s.

A spokesman from the DO (Denominacion de Origen) Bierzo wine board, however, told Meininger’s that its technical staff had alerted Spanish police when it detected fraudulent wine, which led to the massive police operation.

The spokesman, who did not wish to be named, said the DO Bierzo wine board had detected irregularities on wine bottle labels. “Numbers on the back labels had been duplicated. Others were false numbers,” he said.

Both DO Bierzo and the Spanish police declined to provide details about the associated brand or brands. It was not clear how much of the wine remains on the international market. Reports from Spanish media said police had already removed 8,000 bottles of fake wine from circulation in Spain.

DO Bierzo wine board said it had collaborated with Spanish police during the operation to dismantle the organisation.

A Spanish court in Leon, which is handling the investigation declined to comment on the case. 

The four people arrested face charges of fraud, falsification and money laundering.The Guardia Civil said they may make further arrests, as the police operation remains open.

Barnaby Eales

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