Press Release OLAF/05/2000 - 15 June 2000

On 9th June, a joint team of Italian Guardia di Finanza of Catania and OLAF investigators carried out an on-the-spot check at the port of Catania, where a vessel transporting approximately 4.000 tonnes of bananas had been presented to Customs for importation. Further to a verification of the import documents presented for customs clearance, the investigators (Guardia di Finanza, strongly supported by OLAF) established that, since March 1998, 101 false import certificates had been presented in order to fraudulently import into the Community over 160.000 tonnes of bananas originating from Ecuador. The import duties evaded total 126 million €.

In July 1999, OLAF was informed that vast quantities of Ecuadorian bananas were being smuggled into the Community through the Italian port of Catania. According to the information, the illegal trade concerning bananas from Catania was so important that a vast disturbance of the market had been generated in the Community. This information was followed by an independent OLAF analysis of banana trade statistics in the Community according to which the Community yearly import tariff quota of 2,2 million tonnes for "dollar" bananas had been substantially exceeded in 1999. The analysis, carried out in close collaboration with the competent European Commission services (General Directorate of Agriculture) convinced OLAF's investigators that a potential fraud was ongoing, based on the use of false import certificates that give the right to the application of reduced import levies within the import quota.

OLAF reported the information to the Public Prosecutors Office of Catania (Procura Distrettuale della Repubblica di Catania) that already had an ongoing criminal enquiry concerning the alleged involvement of Mafia in the banana trade via the port of Catania. Further to a preliminary investigation by the local Guardia di Finanza (Comando Provinciale della Guardia di Finanza di Catania), enriched by OLAF's findings, a rapid intervention appeared necessary to avoid further illegal importation through the port of Catania and to put an end to the registered market perturbation.

The 9th of June, after the on-the-spot check at the port of Catania, Italian investigators (Guardia di Finanza of Catania) executed the immediate arrest of the importer and the customs agent responsible for the fraud and the confiscation of the banana consignment of approximately 4.000 tonnes. The operation, coordinated by the Public Prosecutors Office (Procura Distrettuale della Repubblica) of Catania, is still ongoing to identify the individuals responsible for the falsification of the import certificates, that have allegedly been used all over the Community.

This investigation demonstrates the excellent co-operation of OLAF with National law enforcement agencies of Italy (Procura della Repubblica and Comando Provinciale della Guardia di Finanza of Catania) and other Member States.

Mr Alessandro Butticé
Spokesman of the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF)
Tel : +32 (0)2 296.5425
Fax: +32 (0)2 299.8101

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