• Germany's news in English

German firm at heart of US tainted honey probe

AFP · 2 Sep 2010, 08:16

Published: 02 Sep 2010 08:16 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Officials said it is the biggest food smuggling case in US history and is part of a years-long crackdown on illegal imports of substandard, tainted and counterfeit products.

The accused allegedly conspired to illegally import more than $40 million of Chinese-origin honey in order to avoid anti-dumping duties totalling nearly $80 million.

The case comes after a series of scares involved Chinese products including melamine-tainted pet food that killed scores of dogs and cats and children's toys made with lead paint.

Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, cautioned that while the honey was tainted with antibiotics that are not approved by US regulators for use in honey production, there was no reason for the public to "panic."

"There is no allegation and no reason to believe that any of the honey involved in this case had led to any injury or illness," he told reporters, adding that the bulk of the imported honey was of a commercial grade and would have been diluted before it reached consumers.

German company Alfred L. Wolff is allegedly at the heart of the conspiracy to import the mislabelled honey.

It allegedly bought low-cost honey from several Chinese suppliers and then shipped it to other countries where it was filtered to "remove pollen and other trace elements that could indicate that the honey originated from China," the 44-count indictment said.

Some of the honey was also mixed with honey from India to further disguise its origin.

Alfred L. Wolff also allegedly commissioned falsified lab reports in order to hide traces of antibiotics in some shipments and then sold them to customers it knew would not test the honey upon arrival.

"The charges allege that these defendants aggressively sought and obtained an illegal competitive advantage in the US honey market by avoiding payment of more than $78 million in anti-dumping duties, and while doing so deliberately violated US laws designed to protect the integrity of our food supply," said Fitzgerald.

“The defendants distributed adulterated honey that never should have reached the US marketplace."

Six of the 15 people charged in the conspiracy have been arrested and have either pled guilty or are cooperating with investigators, Fitzgerald said.

The United States intends to pursue extradition of the remaining suspects.

The government is seeking a forfeiture of more than $78 million in unpaid duties and $39.5 million for the declared value of the 606 illegal shipments made between March 2002 and April 2008.

Story continues below…

The criminal charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000-fine.

Ten German nationals were charged: former Alfred L. Wolff chief executive Alexander Wolff, 37; Jürgen Becker; Tom Weickert; Marcel Belten; Yi Liu, 45, of Beijing; Sven Gehricke, 44; Thomas Marten, 32; Thomas Gerkmann, 37; Stephanie Giesselbach, 32, of Chicago; and Magnus von Buddenbrock, 35, of Chicago.

One Chinese national was also charged: Gong Jie Chen, 44, who acted as sales manager for defendant QHD Sanhai Honey, a honey producer and exporter in Hebei Province, China.

Alfred L. Wolff, which was acquired by Norevo GmbH in February, and four of its subsidiaries also face criminal charges, as does QHD.

Four Chinese nationals not named in the indictment unsealed Wednesday have pled guilty in related charges.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

12:49 September 2, 2010 by freechoice
Those worker bees must be really pissed for removing their origin of production!
Today's headlines
Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Supermarket Edeka warns of exploding apple juice bottles
Photo: DPA

"Risk of injury" from "Gut und Günstig" sparkling apple juice bottles has forced Germany's largest supermarket to recall the product.

By wheelchair from Syria to Germany: teen's story of hope
Nujeen Mustafa. Photo: HarperCollins-William Collins Publicity/Private

She tackled the gruelling 2,000-kilometre migrant trail in a wheelchair, translating along the way for other refugees using English she learned from a US soap opera. Now this teen is living in Germany and hoping to inspire others with a newly published memoir.

Berlin Zoo to have a pair of pandas by next summer
A recently born panda pair at Vienna Zoo. Photo: DPA

The giant bamboo-eating bears will move into a brand new 5,000 square-metre enclosure in the capital's Zoologischer Garten.

Two new spider species discovered in Munich
Zoropsis spinimana. Photo: rankingranqueen / Wikimedia Commons

It's news every arachnophobe in Munich is no doubt thrilled to hear: two types of spider new to the region have been discovered in the Bavarian capital - and one of them bites!

After woman's body found in barrel, husband may walk free
Franziska S., who went missing 24 years ago. Photo: Hanover police.

A woman disappeared in Hanover 24 years ago, but no one reported her missing. Although her husband has now confessed to her murder, he still may not step foot in jail.

Two injured after army tank falls 50 metres in Alps
A Bundeswehr Puma tank. File photo: DPA

A Bundeswehr (German army) soldier has been severely injured after the tank he was riding in crashed 50 metres down an embankment after going off course in bad weather.

Teen girl stands trial for 'Isis' police stabbing in Hanover
Police guard the courthouse in Celle. Photo: DPA

A teenage girl stands trial from Thursday in Germany for stabbing a police officer, an assault allegedly "ordered" by Isis but which was not claimed by the jihadist group.

Merkel threatens Putin with more sanctions on Berlin visit
Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel created a united front with French President Francois Hollande in Berlin on Thursday to denounce Russia’s “war crimes” in Syria.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd