Eel smuggling ring busted in Spain

Who smuggles eels?

Baby eels, a traditional Spanish tapas. Gulas al ajillo

Maybe by friend Steve (right, not exactly as shown), but no one else I would know.

Chris Chase of Seafood Source reports that Europol and the Spanish Guardia Civil, in collaboration with Portuguese authorities, seized 350 kilograms of elvers that were about to be smuggled out of Spain during “Operation Elvers,” the three agencies announced on 6 April.  

Ten suspects were arrested – Spanish, Chinese, and Moroccan nationals – in connection with smuggling the eels. Authorities estimate the group has managed to smuggle a value of EUR 37 million (USD 45.5 million) worth of eels over the course of their operation. 

The European eel is subject to multiple EU regulations, including a blanket ban on all imports and exports and a global restriction on trade. In 2009, the species was listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. Once it became clear that those measures weren’t enough, a ‘zero quota’ ban on all shipments to third countries was put into place.

A video released by the Spanish Guardia Civil shows authorities busting down doors in a raid on the elver smuggling facilities. Rows of tanks filled with make-shift aquaculture equipment, EUR 40,000 (USD 49,000) in cash, and stacks of travel bags used to smuggle the elvers out of the country were all found inside. According to Europol,  a total of 364 travel bags were being prepared to be sent to China, and could have been able to carry more than five tons of eels. 

The video also shows the 350 kilograms of live elvers, being released back into their natural habitat.

Belgian meat processing plant closed for food safety fraud

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) said on Thursday it has pre-emptively closed the Verbist Group’s meat processing plant and cold store VEVIBA in Bastogne,south Belgium, following a case of fraud on meat labels.

Meanwhile, the food safety watchdog has checked all establishments of the Verbist Group in Belgium.

Investigators found a problem in a slaughterhouse in Bastogne where some labels on frozen meat were removed and replaced by others with more recent dates.

“This can potentially be a risk, especially for people who consume raw meat, although for well-cooked meat the risk is lower,” Philippe Houdart, former spokesperson of FASFC, was quoted by local media as saying in a press release.

Two products have been identified as potentially risky for consumers: minced meat as well as cow tails sold to other companies.

Rowdy Irish mums accused of scamming Brisbane restaurants

Police suspect there are likely to be many more victims of a group of marauding mums that have reportedly gone on a scamming spree fraudulently receiving free meals, drinks and even cigarettes from restaurant and bar owners desperate to get rid of them.

The “boisterous” posse, with kids in tow, reportedly “trash” restaurants and cafes as part of the ploy to get staff, at the end of their tethers, to let them off the bill.

Benedict Brook of The Courier Mail reports in one case, they have also been accused of placing glass in a meal and then demanding a refund.

It’s thought at least six businesses in Brisbane’s CBD and nearby suburbs of Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley have been targeted by the gang, most of who are said to have an Irish accent, over the last week.

The apparent scam is just one of many that plague hospitality businesses that have to balance the needs of genuine customers against scammers wanting something for nothing.

While in Brisbane the ploy involved glass, in Adelaide hairs are often placed in food by dodgy punters. In Melbourne food allergies are part of cafe con jobs.

In an angry Facebook post on Monday, Marie Yokoyama from the Birds Nest Japanese restaurant in Fortitude Valley explained how the women had set about to get a free feed.

“They are a group of about seven — four children and three ladies — and they are unbelievably rude. They came in and totally destroyed the restaurant.

“Halfway through the meal one lady started screaming that there was glass in her meal and that her mouth was bleeding. I believed her and then asked to see the glass.

“Upon inspection I knew that this had not come from our restaurant but they were relentless.”

The restaurateur said they didn’t have any thick glass of the type produced but this didn’t placate the customers.

“I was so scared and terrified of them that I made their meals and drinks free — around $180 (in) value.”

The post said the group demanded further drinks, for free, and left their excitable children unattended while they smoked outside.

news.com.au reports today that the group of mums accused of scamming up-market restaurants and stealing from supermarkets may have also trashed four brand-new apartments in Brisbane.

Food fraud: Adulterated chili racket busted in India

A spurious chili powder racket was busted at Gollapudi in Vijayawada on Friday by officials of the Bhavanipuram police, task force, and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The raid was conducted on Sudha Enterprises in Bhavanipuram, where officials found huge quantities of substandard chili powder, made from crushing the stems.

According to reports, Sudha Enterprises was run by one Grandhi Narayana Rao, who procured the inferior quality chili powder for Rs 30 per kg, allegedly re-packed it, and sold it for Rs 50 to Rs 60 per kg.

The officials reportedly seized 600 kg of chili powder in the raid, along with 100 kg of salt and black gram.

“Chili powder usually is made by grinding chili and mixing it with certain ingredients. Instead, Narayana was found using cheap quality chili and chili stems, procured from Guntur, and was selling them under various brand names. He had not obtained FSSAI licence to sell the products in the market,” assistant food controller N Purnachandra Rao was quoted as saying.

In December 2016, a crackdown on adulterated chili powder by the Commissionerate of Food Safety (CFS) found a total of 3.09 tonnes or 3,000 kg of misleading or falsely-labelled product in a span of a few weeks across the state.

Officials said that it was almost impossible to tell the difference unless the product was clinically tested, as they looked exactly the same. This made it even more dangerous, as it is difficult to identify.

Australian student who sold monkey skull to ‘people from Pirates of the Caribbean’ fined

A few years ago, one of those Johnny-Depp-pirate movies — it may have been 5 — was filming down the highway at the Gold Coast.

The set was plagued by drama when it was discovered Depp and then wife Amber Heard had illegally brought two dogs into the country.

This prompted deputy premier Banaby-the-bloody-carp Joyce (right, not exactly as shown) to question Depp’s acting ability after the couple apologized, which shows how small Australia is because now Joyce is embroiled in his own scandalous activities, involving humans, not pets.

Behind the sideshow of movie making, divorce and apologies, a Canberra university student was on Thursday fined for illegally possessing and importing exotic animal remains into Australia, in a case that has shed some light on the shadowy world of wildlife trade.

Alexandra Back of the Canberra Times reports that for years, avid collector Brent Philip Counsell, 28, dealt in what a magistrate described as a “macabre” trade of skulls and animal specimens, once selling a primate skull to the people making the Pirates of the Caribbean movie in Brisbane.

In 2016 authorities from the department of environment raided Counsell’s home in Deakin where they found and seized about 100 animal specimens from the living room and bedroom.

Australian environment law makes it illegal to either possess or import protected exotic animal specimens without a permit.

Over several years, Counsell either illegally imported or possessed a small primate skull threaded on a necklace, the skulls of a brown bear and a gibbon, a taxidermy buzzard, water monitor lizard, and teeth from a bear and a hippopotamus tooth.

When he spoke to investigators, Counsell admitted possessing and selling species from his website wulfe.com.au, which he had since shut down.

One of the charges stemmed from an admission Counsell made to authorities after they had searched his home, that he had sold a primate skull to the “people” behind the Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was filming in Brisbane.

He tried to avoid detection, and prosecutors found on his phone articles that offered tips about how to send skulls overseas without being noticed by customs.

Everyone has a camera, especially for selfies: UK couple who claimed holiday was ruined by food poisoning caught out by posting snaps on Facebook

Martin Naylor of the Mirror reports a brazen couple claimed they fell in with food poisoning while on holiday – only to put up pictures of themselves having fun and eating luxury meals on social media.

Leon Roberts and Jade Muzoka pleaded guilty to fraud and have been warned by a judge that they can face jail.

The couple falsely claimed their holiday in Turkey was ruined in a scam that could have cost travel firm TUI £50,000 had they not been caught out, the Derby Telegraph reports.

But despite the pair discontinuing their story before a penny was paid out, the company chose to prosecute.

District Judge Jonathan Taaffe said: “It would fly in the face of common sense to regard this as an isolated incident.

“It is a real problem in Great Britain and has a real impact on the genuine persons who suffer that make genuine claims and put those who do suffer illness on holiday under suspicion.

“This (the offences) is outside the (sentencing) guidelines because it encourages a tsunami of false claims.

“All (sentencing) options are open at this stage and this is a serious case and it may be that a custodial sentence will follow to show the importance of your wrongdoing.”

Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court was told how Roberts, 37, of Alvaston, and Muzoka, 27, from Sinfin, spent a week at the luxury Cornelia Golf Resort and Spa, in Turkey, in July 2015.

The following April, the pair submitted claims through their solicitor saying they both fell ill during their time away.

But investigators discovered photographs of the couple, who are no longer together, lounging by the pool, drinking and eating dinner.

Food fraud: UK tourist scam version

Lucia Bohorquez of El Pais writes an investigating judge in Palma de Mallorca has lifted the seal on court records entered in the case of a scheme that may have cheated Spanish hotels out of as much as €60 million through phony food poisoning claims filed since 2014.

British law firms promised clients up to €18,000 and a 98% success rate in claims for gastric illness caused by the hotel food. The lawyers kept 60% of the payout, and the remainder was enough to cover the client’s entire holiday package costs. Clients were sent to them by a ring operating out of Mallorca, where “sales agents” were deployed to hotels in search of targets.

From January 2016 to the end of the summer, one hotel chain received 273 claims requesting compensation for 700 people

The Spanish Civil Guard arrested seven members of this ring, all British nationals, in September of last year. The suspects allegedly exploited lax British legislation by persuading hotel clients to file phony food poisoning claims against their tour operators.

Faced with high legal fees if the cases went to court, the tour operators would accept the claims, then pass on the cost to the Spanish hotels as per their contract, in which the latter accept responsibility for all damages.

The investigation was launched after several hotel groups filed police complaints. These hotels had hired private detectives who found that there was a network of agents sent out to hotels to persuade clients to file claims.

A Civil Guard report that shows up in court records mentions two individuals as the heads of the ring. These men operated out of Britain, where they channeled the claims through law firms “with low professional ethics.”

Back on Mallorca, the local leaders were two women – a mother and daughter – whose job it was to hire agents and train them to persuade hotel clients to simulate gastric illnesses. These agents were always native English speakers who dealt directly with their targets at the hotels.

Civil Guard officers followed the activities of the ring and found that it was also active on the island of Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim. One of the women would routinely drive to the hotels to supervise her agents, especially in Sa Coma and Puerto de Alcúdia in the north of Mallorca.

The ring was also active in Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim

All seven arrested ring members kept in touch through a WhatsApp group called “UK Holidays claims,” where they shared their clients’ names and addresses, contact information, holiday reservation number, checkout date and the best time to call the client back in the UK. Each agent added his or her name to the message, to ensure that they would get the commission.

From the duh files: ‘People are being duped’ at Canadian farmers markets

Some farmers market vendors push bogus homegrown stories to consumers looking for fresh local fruits and veggies — and Marketplace has the hidden camera footage to prove it.

The Marketplace team went undercover at 11 bustling markets across Ontario this summer to ask vendors where their produce comes from and then tested the veracity of those claims using surveillance and other investigative techniques.

The results suggest many consumers could be paying premium prices for produce with fake backstories about where it was grown.

At four of the markets, the investigation exposed five different vendors who claimed to be selling fresh produce they had grown themselves but who were actually cashing in by reselling wholesale goods purchased elsewhere.

At a fifth market, the team discovered a vendor passing off Mexican produce as Ontario-grown.

Most of the markets Marketplace visited had vendors known as resellers, who sell produce they didn’t grow. They purchase wholesale fruits and vegetables from places such as the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto — Canada’s largest wholesale market — and take it to farmers markets to sell for a profit.

When asked directly, many resellers were upfront about the fact they didn’t grow the produce, but others were not.

Lauren Nurse, who farms 6 ½ acres in Stirling, Ont., relies on farmers markets as a source of income. She says this kind of behaviour undermines the industry.

“People are being duped,” she says. “There’s no difference between food that you buy at the grocery store and food at the farmers market if it all comes from the food terminal.”

At the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, one of the largest and longest running in Ontario, Marketplace identified two resellers making misleading claims about their products.

The largest of these vendors, Kent Farms, operates two different stalls at the market. One is run by James Kent, and the other by Brent Kent.

They say they’re third generation farmers and have properties northeast of Toronto in Newcastle, Orono and Lindsay.

They told undercover Marketplace journalists that most of the produce they were selling was grown on their family farms, or was from neighbouring properties.

Marketplace started digging after noticing the cucumbers Brent Kent claimed to have grown were labelled with stickers from a large multinational corporation that grows greenhouse vegetables 500 kilometres away in Kingsville, Ont., located south of Windsor on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie.

To determine where the Kents were getting the rest of their produce, Marketplace followed a Kent Farms truck the day before the Peterborough market.

Long before dawn, the truck drove 100 kilometres from James Kent’s property in Newcastle to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. There, the journalists witnessed James Kent and his employees loading their truck with more than 50 boxes of produce including peppers, zucchinis, strawberries and radishes.

At market the next day, James and Brent Kent were seen unloading boxes that looked to be the same as those from the terminal. Staff at Brent Kent’s stall peeled stickers off peppers and James Kent transferred vegetables from wholesale boxes to farm bushels.

When undercover Marketplace journalists asked about the zucchinis, James Kent said: “They’re mine.” He also claimed the radishes were from his neighbour “across the field.”

“He buys all my strawberries,” he said. “The last thing I can do is say no to him when he sells me some radishes.”

Brent Kent said he grew the peppers that Marketplace filmed having their stickers removed earlier that day.

‘Believe in transparency’

Both James and Brent Kent declined to be interviewed.

In an emailed statement, James Kent said they “believe in transparency” and are committed to their customers. He said he grows some of what he sells and purchases some Ontario produce at the food terminal because he believes it’s a “benefit to consumers to provide products from other regions of Ontario.”

Marketplace found four more examples of vendors at markets in Burlington, Gravenhurst, Orillia and Toronto who weren’t clear or upfront about what they were selling.

A vendor at the Burlington Mall Farmers’ Market southwest of Toronto told undercover Marketplace journalists that the tomatoes he was selling were from his farm, which he said is called Koornneef. But Koornneef Produce is actually a large wholesaler that only sells produce at the Ontario Food Terminal.

Tex-Mex theft: $1.2M in stolen fajitas prompts employee’s arrest at Texas juvie center

This ranks up there with the great maple syrup theft in Canada a couple of years ago.

Josh Hafner of USA Today reports a Texas juvenile center employee confessed to stealing shipments of fajitas over nine years, a district attorney said, a theft totaling $1.2 million.

The Tex-Mex mystery unfolded on Aug. 7 when an 800-pound delivery of fajitas arrived at the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department in San Benito, The Brownsville Herald reported, about 10 miles north of the Mexico border.

There was only one problem, a kitchen staffer told the delivery driver: The department didn’t serve fajitas. That’s when the driver said he had been delivering fajitas to the center for nearly a decade, District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said.

“If it wasn’t so serious, you’d think it was a Saturday Night Live skit,” Saenz told the Herald. “But this is the real thing.”

The kitchen staffer told her supervisor about the call, and the missing piece fell into place: Gilberto Escamilla, a department employee, had taken that day off. When confronted at work the next day, he confessed to stealing fajitas for the past nine years, Saenz told the newspaper.

Officers later searching his home found fajitas in the refrigerator. Escamilla made bail following his firing and arrest, but a trail of invoices and vouchers led investigators to the shockingly spicy conclusion: Escamilla’s fajitas fraud totaled $1,251,578, per the Herald.

“He would literally, on the day he ordered them, deliver them to customers he had already lined up,” Saenz said.

Organic BS: Hucksters make a buck, plead guilty to fraud in Canada

Chapman and I toured southern Ontario tomato farms and processors 16 years ago, and shot youtube video, but youtube didn’t exist, so we didn’t know what to do with the video.

Here it is.

Trevor Wilhelm of the Windsor Star reports that bankrupt Maidstone tomato processing company received a controversial $3- million provincial grant is expected to plead guilty next month to purposely mislabelling products as organic.

An order signed by a Toronto judge states that William (Bill) Thomas, owner of Thomas Canning, has agreed to plead guilty on behalf of the company and pay a $40,000 fine. In exchange, several other charges against the company and Thomas himself will be withdrawn.

The judge’s order states the guilty plea must be entered no later than Nov. 23. Thomas’s next scheduled court appearance in Windsor is Nov. 6.

The guilty plea and $40,000 fine is part of a joint submission from prosecution and defence lawyers. But the judge’s order states the court is not bound by that submission.

According to documents previously filed in Ontario court by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Thomas and his company are accused of 11 offences in contravention of the Food and Drug Act, the Consumer Packaging Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act.

Thomas Canning and its owner are accused of labelling regular canned tomato products as organic.

The company and Thomas were also charged with falsifying the country of origin on their products between September 2013 and July 2015, passing off American tomato products as Canadian with labels that read “Product of Canada.”

Thomas was also charged personally with lying to a federal food inspector on Jan. 8, 2015, about canned tomato paste sold under the brand Tree of Life.

The company’s website, which is no longer accessible, previously stated that Thomas Canning charged a 20 per cent premium for organic products.

Thomas Canning received a $3-million grant from the province in 2014 to build a new fruit and vegetable processing facility. The plant was never built.

Farmers planted additional crops, signing contracts with Thomas Canning to supply tomatoes to the new plant. Those additional tomatoes rotted in the field.

Before the company went into receivership earlier this year, nine farmers were suing Thomas Canning for $2.85 million for reneging on contracts to grow tomatoes in 2016.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has said it’s fine with the way Thomas Canning used the money. The ministry said the money was used to create and retain jobs, rebrand its Utopia products and open up markets in Nigeria and China.

After receiving the $3 million, Thomas Canning went bankrupt. That process is still winding its way through court.