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MT 8 May 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 8 JURGEN BALZAN AN investigation by Italian authori- ties 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 con- tained GMOs and banned pesti- cides, 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 com- panies 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 At- las Check. These companies were founded by Bruno D'Aprile who, according to the Italian investigators, is the mas- termind behind the illegal operation. According to the pre-trial deten- tion order, the septuagenarian "plays a prominent role in the system de- vised for the marketing of products falsely marked as organic, and he is in constant contact with the other co-accused." The Italian authorities also con- cluded that D'Aprile was the found- er 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 en- tire group in terms of operational choices, technical information and instructions. The preliminary report compiled by the Pesaro judge in charge of in- vestigations said that "D'Aprile con- trols both the Maltese regulatory body, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MC- CAA), and Delva Corporation al- though it is directed by Detassis and linked to Federici Marcello." While questions sent to the MC- CAA were redirected to the Direc- torate 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 con- tinuous intermediary between the criminal organisations and govern- ment authorities within the coun- tries involved. Two years ago, Detassis was ar- rested in Sardinia over a shipment of Moldovan corn which was found to contain GMOs. Pleading his inno- cence, Detassis claimed that the car- go 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 fal- sification of an invoice. The sentence was suspended on probation and shortly after Detassis returned to do- ing business in the organic industry. Detassis, was also involved in the biggest scandal involving counter- feit organic food in 2011, with some 700,000 tons of conventional corn and soybean passed for pure organic products, with some products reach- ing Germany. In the interview with German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, Detas- sis rejected accusations of wrongdo- ing 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 care- fully checked the goods." The Pesaro prosecutor Silvi Cecchi however said that the Moldovan and Maltese authorities did not cooper- ate in the investigation, adding "we do not know whom we can trust, we fear that local authorities could be involved." News Malta at the centre of organic food fraud MALTA MOLDOVA UKRAINE KAZAKHSTAN ITALY Conventional grains arrive in Malta from Moldova, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and these are then exported to Italy as organic products 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

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