Press Release OLAF/07/2002, 9 July 2002
In June 2000, acting on information received, investigators working for OLAF - the European Anti-Fraud Office discovered that there had been illegal trafficking in bananas for nearly two years that had netted those responsible hundreds of millions of euros.
In the importation of bananas, Community rules entitle importers with a valid import licence (called an AGRIM certificate) to lower customs duties on goods within the yearly quota compared to the duties levied on non-quota goods. License holders pay duties of €55 per tonne instead of €850 per tonne. In this case it was discovered that a number of unscrupulous operators obtained false import licences and used these to import bananas.
Initially, the Italian authorities suspected the economic operators involved of smuggling cocaine. Thanks to the action at European level it was discovered that what was involved was a fraud involving the importation of bananas.
In this press release the Italian investigators underline the vital importance of investigations carried out by OLAF.
Fabio Scavone, Deputy Public Prosecutor of Catania declared at the end of the investigation: "At the outset, this enquiry was only aimed at monitoring a vessel suspected of carrying cocaine. The enquiry was unsuccessful because no cocaine was found on board. However, quite by chance it was found that the same vessel was in fact transporting bananas and attempting to evade Customs. We've been able to find out how a small village shopkeeper from the provinces has managed to build up a real empire from nothing and control the trade in bananas in the whole of central and southern Italy. Thanks to OLAF, we've learnt that this type of activity is linked to other countries such as France, Spain and Portugal. We've also managed to understand what at first wasn't very clear, that more profit can be made from this type of fraud than from serious crimes such as importing a tonne of cocaine "
Four factors made this fraud possible:
If it had not been for OLAF, the case in question might have gone unpunished. OLAF was able to contribute thanks to:
Indeed, judging by our actual experience, OLAF's work has been a decisive and essential factor in helping us carry out our enquiries, as OLAF acts as a driving force, as well as co-ordinating and circulating information." added Vincenzo D'Agata - Deputy Head of the OLAF wishes to make it clear that information obtained in the course of its investigations is protected by the relevant Community and national provisions. It follows that any further comment by OLAF about investigations until these have been concluded would be a breach of the law by the European Anti-Fraud Office.
For further information please contact the Guardia di Finanza in Catania.
Phone: +39 095 531.399
Mr Alessandro Butticé
Spokesman of the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF)
Tel : +32 (0)2 296.5425
Fax : +32 (0)2 299.8101