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Assets seized in ‘organic wine fraud’ probe

Italian police have seized assets worth more than half-a-million euros in an investigation into a producer that sought EU funds to convert to organic grape growing, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office said recently.

Specialist financial police in Brindisi, south-east Italy, seized assets worth more than €520,000 (£440,000) as part of the organic wine fraud probe, at the request of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Naples. 

It’s a case that involves suspected misuse of European Union (EU) agriculture funds made available to support a wine producer’s conversion to organic farming, said the EPPO in late January.

‘At issue is a company operating in the wine sector, whose legal representatives attested that it had carried out the conversion to organic methods of cultivation, in order to receive funds co-financed by the EU,’ said the EPPO.

‘However, during checks carried out by Italy’s Institute for Ethical and Environmental Certification (ICEA), chemicals that are not allowed in organic farming were detected in the soil,’ it said. 

Police seized real estate assets of the suspects in the case, although no companies or individuals have been named at this stage. 

A judge ordered the assets to be frozen, pending a preliminary investigation of the case by the Court of Lecce, said the EPPO.

It emphasised that the suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.

EPPO is an independent public prosecution office that is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes against the financial interests of the EU.

Nearly one fifth of Italy’s total vineyard area is organic, according to minutes from a meeting of the European Commission’s Wine Market Observatory expert panel in December 2023. 

It added that the number of organic vineyards in the country has jumped by 138% since 2012.

More than €1bn of EU funding is set aside annually to support the bloc’s wine sector in different member states, ranging from restructuring vineyards to promoting wines on the market, said the European Commission in June 2023.

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