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World

Russians smash illegal $45m cheese ring

August 19, 2015 6:20 pm

Russian police say they have smashed a gang producing millions of dollars worth of contraband cheese.

Six people were detained accused of making cheese worth $NZ45m using ingredients from the West.

Russia has destroyed Western-made cheese and other foods after banning some imports in retaliation for sanctions over Crimea’s annexation.

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Moscow region police accused the six people arrested of using half a tonne of banned rennet, a curdling agent, to make the cheese.

The cheese was then given counterfeit labels and sold in supermarkets in Moscow and St Petersburg.

The gang could face fraud charges punishable by up to 10 years in jail, police said.

In a new move, a hotline has been set up for people to pass on information about illegal imports or sales.

In recent weeks, Moscow has ordered the destruction of tonnes of cheese and other foodstuffs including bacon, nectarines, peaches and tomatoes.

This follows a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin, ordering that food breaching sanctions be destroyed.

The destruction has prompted criticism from some politicians and an outcry from anti-poverty campaigners, who say the food should have been given to the poor.

More than 370,000 people have backed an online petition calling on Mr Putin to give the food away.

Officials insist the destruction of Western food is a health issue – rather than political – saying that most products supplied illicitly in contravention of sanctions are of dubious quality.

As of Monday, 321 tonnes of animal products had been seized and 592 tonnes of fruit and vegetables, agricultural authorities said.

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