French fraud investigators reportedly say they have uncovered a €6 million (US$6.8 million) scam in which large volumes of Italian kiwifruit were passed off as more expensive French-grown fruit, The Guardian reported.
Consumer officials say 15,000 metric tons of the fruit were wrongly labeled over three years and have launched legal action against seven suppliers, who risk prison sentences and €300,000 fines if convicted.
Suspicions were raised when French kiwifruit producers queried the amount of fruit on the market. They produce about 45,000MT of the fruit annually, compared with 400,000MT in Italy.
Investigators said they discovered 12% of kiwis stamped “French origin” had been imported from neighboring Italy. With French kiwis selling at €0.70 each and Italian kiwis at €0.50, fraudsters were allegedly making €0.20 on each fruit sold, netting a profit of an estimated €6m.
Le Parisien newspaper, which called the scandal “kiwigate,” said the price difference was the result of cheaper labor and production costs in Italy, where it also claimed fruit was treated with products banned in France, enabling a higher yield.
Kiwis are among the 10 most popular fruits in France, which has 1,200 kiwi producers with most of the crop grown in the Midi-Pyrénées and Aquitaine regions. Producers claim that at the end of the season, around March and April, when fewer French kiwifruit are available, the market is being flooded with Italian fruit, artificially lowering prices.
It was the sudden availability of French kiwis, at a time they were supposed to be out of season, that alerted the authorities.