Law enforcement authorities have dismantled a Lithuanian group accused of putting expired food products with altered labeling back on the market.

The operation involved Eurojust and Europol, plus agencies in Lithuania, Estonia, France, and Germany.

Active since early 2021, the organized crime group is believed to have purchased millions of expiring or expired food products and other perishable goods from Germany and France. They altered the dates on the products and regularly supplied them to the Lithuanian market, where they were bought by thousands of consumers. Despite this, no related reports of illness were mentioned.

Items were stored in warehouses in Lithuania without the necessary registration from the State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT). Special tools were used to erase the original details and print new labels with dates sometimes up to one or two years longer.

Original information changed
Some of the accused worked for companies registered in Lithuania while other operators were unregistered. Through five companies they created, products were sold on a large scale at a high price via stores owned by them or in outlets of other Lithuanian retail chains.

Items included products of animal and non-animal origin, according to the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau. Agency officials said low-quality and unsafe products were offered to the domestic market, posing a possible risk to public health and deceiving consumers. A video of the operation has been released and can be seen here.

Initial estimates suggest the group obtained more than €1 million ($1.07 million) through this activity. Suspects allegedly kept fake accounting records and falsified documents to hide the real purchase and sale values to avoid paying taxes.

Equipment for altering the expiry dates on products, including solvents and printers, was found at several locations in Lithuania, as well as large quantities of expired products.

So far, VMVT has performed 40 inspections and seized more than 35 tons of food products, which were found with an expired expiration date, without purchase documents, or with a false shelf life. At least 30 samples from products with long shelf lives have been sent for lab evaluation.

“This case, where the expiration date of a food product was deliberately changed, will have huge negative consequences, both in terms of business relations, in assessing the reliability of suppliers, and in the trust of consumers, who were deceived by traders,” said Jurgita Bakasėnienė, deputy director of VMVT.

Wider involvement and Italian case
Eurojust work helped lead to the arrest of 24 people in Lithuania. Suspects may be facing up to eight years in prison.

About 70 searches and inspections of warehouses and other locations were carried out and 200 officers were involved during the action day on May 23. More than 30 witnesses were interviewed in Estonia, France, Germany, and Lithuania.

At Lithuania’s request, 10 searches in companies and warehouses abroad were sanctioned, inspections were carried out in five warehouses of large German and French firms, and documents and computers were seized.

The case was opened in January this year at the request of Lithuanian authorities. Eurojust hosted three coordination meetings and set up a center to enable cooperation between the authorities involved. Europol was part of the operation since December 2022 and provided analytical support.

Officials in Belgium and Romania supported the investigation. Italian authorities are also conducting an ongoing large-scale investigation that is also targeting food fraud and trademark counterfeiting by a group operating in Italy.

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