A policeman checks the account books at a warehouse in Qingpu District where expired olive oil was found. (Ti Gong)
Five suspects have been arrested for changing production dates on foreign olive oil brands whose expiry dates were about to run out.
Police said yesterday that by doing so the suspects could have made over 9 million yuan (.32 million) if they had sold all their stock.
Together with market inspectors, police in Pudong recently seized about 1,300 boxes — or about 10,000 bottles — of the olive oil from two warehouses, one in the Meiyuan area of Pudong, the other in the Xianghuaqiao area in Qingpu District.
The suspects have profited at least 130,000 yuan from selling expired olive oil to dealers in 12 provinces and cities in China at a price of 25 to 150 yuan a bottle, according to Pudong New Area People's Procuratorate.
Police said they began an investigation after being alerted by district market inspectors last February.
The brands of expired olive oil are San Giuliano and Clemente from Italy, and Natura from Spain.
One of the suspects, a 42-year-old woman surnamed Chen who worked for the Italian company that produces and sells San Giuliano, said her boss suggested the scam when they found out that the olive oil "didn't sell well in China" back in 2013.
"My boss said in some countries the olive oil expires after three years instead of two years in China, so it shouldn't be a problem," Chen said. "I did as he told and had no idea that I was breaking the law."
She said some of the fake labels were mailed to her from Italy and the rest were printed in China.
Chen, who is being held at the detention center in Pudong, also told Shanghai Daily that the olive oil with fake labels was sold at prices lower than market prices to the dealers, but that had not raised suspicions because the company often offered discounts to wholesalers.
The Clemente and Natura olive oil were stored in the warehouses handled by another suspect, surnamed Cui, and the origins of the oil were still being investigated as were other people who could be involved in the schemes, police said.
Lin Min, a prosecutor handling the case, said the suspects could be sentenced to up to two years in prison for selling fake products providing there were no health consequences resulting from the illegal activity.