Turkey accused of plundering olive oil from Syria to sell in the EU

Thursday, 17 January, 2019 , 18:30

Telegraph.co.uk | By James Badcock, Madrid

A Swiss MP has accused the Turkish government of passing off olive oil plundered from Syria as Turkish in order to sell it in European Union countries, including Spain.

Bernhard Guhl of Switzerland’s Conservative Democratic Party has alerted the Swiss government to the possibility of olive oil seized as loot from the conflict in Syria entering the European Union single market falsely labelled as Turkish, with the aim of financing militias backed by Ankara.   

“In Turkish-occupied Afrin, the olive groves are being pillaged by both Turkish forces and the militias they support. The olives they steal have been sold to Spain, and the sale will continue,” Mr Guhl claimed.

He made the claims in a motion presented before Switzerland’s national parliament in which he asked what action was being taken to investigate the trade and revenues potentially deriving from it.

The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces took the city of Afrin in northern Syria, south of the Turkish border, from Kurdish militias in March 2018.

According to Spanish online newspaper Público, the Turkish government is using a number of intermediary companies to export olive oil seized from former Kurdish-held areas into Spain.

The newspaper quotes sources from the region claiming the oil is mixed with a Turkish product before being exported under a false label.   

Público quotes a dossier on the alleged looting of olive oil from the Afrin area that states the haul from last year’s crop could be worth around €70 million (£62 million) in the Spanish wholesale market, with a quarter of revenues due to be handed to FSA militias.

Turkey’s agriculture minister, Bekir Pakdemirli, has been quoted in the Turkish media as saying that his government planned to claim the olive oil being produced in Afrin to stop it falling into the hands of Kurdish forces that Ankara considers to be separatist terrorists.

“It doesn’t matter if the final destination is Spain or Germany but, I believe it is very important that the country or countries concerned launch a criminal investigation to determine whether companies are trading in stolen olives or olive oil,” Mr Guhl told Público.   

Turkey is the third-largest external source of imported olive oil into the EU behind Tunisia and Morocco.  

The Telegraph approached Spain’s agriculture ministry for a response.