Malta at the centre of organic food fraud

Once the grains reach Malta, a Maltese registered company exports the produce to Italy. Lax controls allowed the company to sell the goods in Europe without being inspected and certified again

The fraudulent activity was related to imports of grains intended for processing and foodstuff for human and domestic animals consumption from a number of countries, namely Moldova, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, directly towards Italy or through Malta, Slovenia and Romania.
The fraudulent activity was related to imports of grains intended for processing and foodstuff for human and domestic animals consumption from a number of countries, namely Moldova, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, directly towards Italy or through Malta, Slovenia and Romania.

An investigation by Italian authorities has put Malta at the centre of a criminal activity in which thousands of tons of conventional wheat, corn, soybeans, rapeseed and sunflower seed were being imported from non-EU countries and exported to Italy as organic or biological products. 

The operation, dubbed ‘Vertical Bio’, was conducted by Italy’s Central Inspectorate for Quality Protection and Repression of Agri-Food Frauds, the Guardia di Finanza (Financial Police) and the Attorney General of the central Italian town of Pesaro.

Police investigations concluded that two criminal organisations formed by Italian entrepreneurs were involved in the import and sale of organic products in central Italy. 

The fraudulent activity was related to imports of grains intended for processing and foodstuff for human and domestic animals consumption from a number of countries, namely Moldova, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, directly towards Italy or through Malta, Slovenia and Romania.

The grains, which at times contained GMOs and banned pesticides, are certified as organic or bio by the regulatory bodies in Moldova, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. 

Once the grains reach Malta, a Maltese registered company exports the produce to Italy. The lax controls in Malta allowed the company to circumvent the stringent controls in Italy and the goods could be sold in Europe without being inspected and certified again.

Between 2007 and 2013, the companies involved imported some 350,000 tons of corn, soybeans, wheat, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds, at an estimated market value of €126 million. 

The Maltese registered company, Delva Corporation is owned by Leia Alvarenga and Stefano Detassis and is housed at Manoel Block, Flat 17, Il-Qasam ta’ San Gorg, St Julian’s. Two other companies are registered on the same address, Omnia Cert Ltd, which is in dissolution, and Atlas Check. 

These companies were founded by Bruno D’Aprile who, according to the Italian investigators, is the mastermind behind the illegal operation. 

According to the pre-trial detention order, the septuagenarian “plays a prominent role in the system devised for the marketing of products falsely marked as organic, and he is in constant contact with the other co-accused.”

The Italian authorities also concluded that D’Aprile was the founder and substantial director of the Maltese control bodies Omnia Cert and Atlas Check and of the trading company Delva Corporation and was the reference point of the entire group in terms of operational choices, technical information and instructions. 

The preliminary report compiled by the Pesaro judge in charge of investigations said that “D’Aprile controls both the Maltese regulatory body, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA), and Delva Corporation although it is directed by Detassis and linked to Federici Marcello.” 

While questions sent to the MCCAA were redirected to the Directorate for Agriculture, the latter had not given its reaction by the time of going to print. 

D’Aprile is regarded as the one who “holds the reins” and is a continuous intermediary between the criminal organisations and government authorities within the countries involved. 

Two years ago, Detassis was arrested in Sardinia over a shipment of Moldovan corn which was found to contain GMOs. Pleading his innocence, Detassis claimed that the cargo was damaged by seawater aboard the Turkish cargo ship, adding that Maltese authorities inspected the corn and confirmed that there was nothing wrong with it. 

In 2010, Detassis bargained with the prosecutor in Verona over a three-month prison sentence for falsification of an invoice. The sentence was suspended on probation and shortly after Detassis returned to doing business in the organic industry.

Detassis, was also involved in the biggest scandal involving counterfeit organic food in 2011, with some 700,000 tons of conventional corn and soybean passed for pure organic products, with some products reaching Germany. 

In the interview with German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, Detassis rejected accusations of wrongdoing and said that “only two Delva Corporation shipments of organic corn and soybean left Malta in 2012, and these were not challanged by the Maltese authorities, who had carefully checked the goods.”

The Pesaro prosecutor Silvi Cecchi however said that the Moldovan and Maltese authorities did not cooperate in the investigation, adding “we do not know whom we can trust, we fear that local authorities could be involved.”

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