An illegal trading scheme in banned and fake pesticides and fertilisers that were potentially dangerous to consumers’ health has been halted by the Romanian and Italian authorities.

The European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) and Europol supported the joint investigation team (JIT).

Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol’s mission is to support its member states in preventing and combating all forms of serious international and organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism.

The role of Eurojust meanwhile, is to help make Europe a safer place by coordinating the work of national authorities – from the EU member states as well as third states – in investigating and prosecuting transnational crime.

During a series of actions in both countries, evidence of large-scale fraud, forgery and tax evasion was gathered and one suspect was arrested.

The substances were all banned for trade in the European Union, as they could be dangerous to users and consumers as they contained high doses of active substances.

Illegal trade of fake pesticides

According to the agencies, the suspects illegally imported the products from China and Singapore, but sold them as bio- or organic fertilisers and pesticides, using counerfeit labels.

The suspects also allegedly sold goods that were fake but pretended they were legitimate organic products.

Between February and May 2023, three suspect shipments arriving from outside the EU were detected by the Romanian customs authorities. Subsequent inspections by the phytosanitary authorities confirmed it concerned fake or banned products, using falsified labels.

Further investigations and searches in Romania, showed an organised crime group (OCG) was behind the illegal activities.

The OCG was composed of Romanian and Italian nationals who took over existing companies in Romania or registered new trading companies for the sale of the products in Italy. Falsified declaration forms were used for this purpose.

The Italian judicial authority gathered extensive evidence on the destination to the domestic market of the goods illegally introduced into Romania and identified the suspects who had promoted the illicit traffic in agricultural products from Italy.

At the request of the authorities involved, early this year Eurojust assisted with the setting up and financing of a JIT team into the OCG.

The agency organised a dedicated coordination meeting and supported the cross-border judicial response to the illegal activities.

Europol held several operational meetings in order to proceed with national investigations in a coordinated manner.

This support led to a series of coordinated actions in Romania and Italy, during which 10 locations were searched across Arad, Bucharest, Verona, and Naples, gathering additional evidence of the crimes.

During the course of the activities, the Romanian Judicial Authority also arrested one of the suspects