A man has been arrested in Italy for threatening to tamper with food and water products in supermarkets.

Investigators said the 47-year-old man claimed he would target mineral water and food items in supermarkets by injecting them with cyanide, thallium sulphate and rat poison, if he was not paid a ransom in cryptocurrencies.

Italian officials said he used anonymous emails sent through foreign providers and published videos on the methods of adulteration, to appear more persuasive in blackmailing food companies. They did not say whether any firms paid the ransom but it is understood the man never put contaminated products back on shelves at retailers.

An investigation into the Italian citizen who lives in Trieste, involved the public prosecutor’s office of Rome, police in Lazio and the Italian unit of Eurojust from August 2021 to May 2022.

This found numerous other companies in Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Switzerland had also been targeted with the same type of threat and led to the involvement of Europol. Officials reported up to 200 blackmail threats were part of their enquiries.

Video and computer evidence
Italian authorities said the accused requested the payment in cryptocurrency of large sums of money after threatening to tamper with products distributed by the companies he contacted.

The warning also included the disclosure, through the media, of the product contamination, with possibly significant public alarm, plus image and economic damage for the companies and the potential of such an incident to cause a very serious danger to the health of consumers.

It took experts about 16 hours to gain access to files on the suspect’s laptop and gather evidence. Police found several video files which showed the alleged contamination of the products and their repacking, before possible inclusion back into the distribution chain. However, investigations revealed it did not appear that the poisoning of food and water that was then put back on sale ever occurred.

A series of objects were found and seized, including a tablecloth, an oven and a scale to weigh food that were identical to those that appeared in one of the videos thought to be shot by the suspect, which showed the methods of product manipulation.

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