Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Olive Oil Scandal


A good friend gave me a subscription several years ago to The New Yorker, and at the time I didn’t know how lucky I was. First, I loved the cartoons. A couple magazines later, I got pulled in by some of their excellent travel and political writing. Later, the fiction issues pulled me in and introduced me to authors I had never read before. In no time at all, I was totally addicted.

Now, when The New Yorker arrives, Adventure Man and I fight to see who gets to read it first! Often he wins; he skims it. He knows I will take too long getting through it.

It was the New Yorker magazine who informed me about the great olive oil scandal.

I love olive oil. I only use other oils in baked goods, where the olive oil might give an odd taste, we use olive oil almost exclusively. Or so I thought.

In the August 13 Issue of the New Yorker, Tom Meuller starts like this:

On August 10, 1991, a rusty tanker called the Mazal I docked at the industrial port of Ordu, in Turkey, and pumped twenty-two hundred tons of hazelnut oil into its hold. The ship then embarked on a meandering voyage through the Mediterranean and the North Sea. By September 21st, when the Mazal II reached Barletta, a port in Puglia, in southern Italy, its cargo had become, on the ship’s official documents, Greek olive oil. It slipped through customs, possibly with the connivance of an official, was piped into tanker trucks, and was delivered to the refinery of Riolio, an Italian olive-oil produce based in Barletta. There it was sold—in some instances blended with real olive oil—to Riolio customers

Between August and November of 1991, the Mazal II and another tanker, the Katerina T., delivered nearly ten thousand tons of Turkish hazelnut oil and Argentinean sunflower-seed oil to Riolio, all identified as Greek olive oil.

Riolio’s owner, Domenico Ribatti, grew rich from the bogus oil, assembling substantial real-estate holdings, including a former department store in Bari. He bribed two officials, one with cash, the other with cartons of olive oil, and made trips to Rome, where he stayed at the Grand Hotel, and met with other unscrupulous olive-oil producers from Italy and abroad. As one of Italy’s leading importers of olive oil, Ribatti’s company was a member of ASSITOL, the country’s powerful olive-oil trade association, and Ribatti had enough clout in Rome to ask a favor—preferential treatment of an associate’s nephew, who was seeking admission to a military officers’ school—of a high-ranking official at the Finance Ministry, a fellow-pugliese.

However, by early 1992 Ribatti and his associates were under investigation by the Guardia di Finanza, the Finance Ministry’s military-police force. One officer, wearing a miniature video camera on his tie, posed as a waiter at a lunch hosted by Ribatti at the Grand Hotel. Others, eavesdropping on telephone calls among Riolio executives, heard the rustle of bribe money being counted out. During the next two years, the Guardia di Finanza team, working closely with agents of the European Union’s anti-fraud office, pieced together the details of Ribatti’s crime, identifying Swiss bank accounts and Caribbean shell companies that Ribatti had used to buy the ersatz olive oil.

The investigators discovered that seed and hazelnut oil had reached Riolio’s refinery by tanker truck and by train, as well as by ship, and they found stocks of hazelnut oil waiting in Rotterdam for delivery to Riolio and other olive-oil companies.
The investigators also discovered where Ribatti’s adulterated oil had gone: to some of the largest producers of Italian olive oil, among them Nestlé, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi, who sold it to consumers as olive oil, and collected about twelve million dollars in E.U. subsidies intended to support the olive-oil industry. (These companies claimed that they had been swindled by Ribatti, and prosecutors were unable to prove complicity on their part.)

You can read this entire fascinating article here: Tom Meuller: Slippery BusinessGive yourself plenty of time. It is an article well worth reading.

There is another good reference here: The Great Olive Oil Scandal from
Investigators have gathered evidence indicating that the biggest olive oil brands in Italy — Bertolli, Sasso, and Cirio — have for years been systematically diluting their extra-virgin olive oil with cheap, highly-refined hazelnut oil imported from Turkey. [1]

A 1996 study by the FDA found that 96 percent of the olive oils they tested, while being labeled 100 percent olive oil, had been diluted with other oils. A study in Italy found that only 40 percent of the olive oil brands labeled “extra-virgin” actually met those standards. Italy produces 400,000 tons of olive oil for domestic consumption, but 750,000 tons are sold. The difference is made up with highly refined nut and seed oils. [2]


“In 1998, the New York law firm Rabin and Peckel, LLP, took on the olive oil labeling misnomer and filed a class action suit in the New York Supreme Court against Unilever, the English-Dutch manufacturer of Bertolli olive oil. The firm argued that Bertolli’s labels, which read “Imported from Italy,” did not meet full disclosure laws because, even though the oil had passed through Italian ports, most of it had originated in Tunisia, Turkey, Spain or Greece. “Bertolli olive oil is imported from Italy, but contains no measurable quantity of Italian oil,” according to court documents.”

Curezone lists manufacturers of adulterated olive oil and marketers of the same oil. It is disgusting. We pay high prices for junk-olive oil. From

The Guilty

Below is a list of known adulterated brands and dishonest distributors with links to information about their cases.

Adulterated brands of extra virgin olive oil
with country of origin

Andy’s Pure Olive Oil (Italy)
Bertolli (Italy)
Castel Tiziano (Italy)
Cirio (Italy)
Cornelia (Italy)
Italico (Italy)
Ligaro (Italy)
Olivio (Greece)
Petrou Bros. Olive Oil (California)
Primi (Italy)
Regale (Italy)
Ricetta Antica (Italy)
Rubino (Italy)
San Paolo (Italy)
Sasso (Italy)
Terra Mia (Italy)

Distributors caught selling adulterated olive oil

Altapac Trading
AMT Fine Foods
Bella International Food Brokers
Cher-Mor Foods International
D&G Foods
Deluca Brothers International
Gestion Trorico Inc.
Itaical Trading
Kalamata Foods
Les Ailments MIA Food Distributing
Lonath International
Mario Sardo Sales, Inc.
Petrou Foods, Inc.
Rubino USA Inc.
Siena Foods Ltd.
Vernon Foods

So who do we trust? How do we know that we are getting a quality, unadulterated product? This is fraud in an international scale!

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Cooking, Crime, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Health Issues, Italy, Lies, Shopping, Technical Issue, Turkey | , , , , | 29 Comments

Accident Aftermath

This time the crunch was different. This time, the initial BLAM crunch was followed by a heart-sickening series of crunches. I was on the phone dialing 777 even before I got to the window.

They have lovely women working for emergency services now, women who can stay calm and switch languages easily. Just hearing her voice calms me down as I report the accident, tell them to send an ambulance. The upside down car door is flipping open, and people are running to help the victim out. It’s a woman, and she is beautiful. She is also bleeding, and once they get her out, she is very still, too still.

The traffic police call me back and I tell them where the accident is, but thank God the woman is still on the phone and when he doesn’t understand, she fills in efficiently and accurately.

It takes them 21 minutes to arrive. The traffic police send one car, and on a busy street, they all gather around the woman and stare. The MOI also send a car. Not one of these police set up any kind of traffic control, cars on both sides of the road are stopping, people come running, just to look.

The ambulances take 22 minutes. When they leave, there are no sirens. I don’t think she survived. The medics appeared knowledgeable and efficient.

It’s the aftermath that bothers me now. On the ground, they left all the medical waste.


The last thing the medic did as he got into the ambulance was to throw his bloodied gloves on the ground:


And then . . .the traffic cops left! There are two wrecks on one of the busiest thoroughfares in town, and no protection from the next speeding car! The wrecks are in the fast lane!


Don’t get me wrong. You know how I feel – police, ambulance medics, firemen – they are all heroes in my book. They risk their lives every day for the common good. The save lives, and they take pride in what they do.

They need a little training in accident management. When there is an accident, there needs to be a priority on getting there fast, and controlling the crowd, and routing traffic by efficiently. The medics need to pick up their waste.

There needs to be after-accident care, ensuring that someone stays until the wreckage is removed.

I had a house guest once who sat in my window and said “Oh my God. Oh my God! Oh! Oh! Oh!”

There are three separate u-turns we can see. Each one is another accident just waiting to happen. When the turn lanes back up, sometimes some people start honking, putting pressure on the lead person to make an unsafe turn. Please – resist the pressure. Take your time. Wait for a safe, truly safe interval.

Please, my friends, do one thing for me. Please, buckle your seat belts. And please, buckle up your children, put them in car-seats made to protect them, teach them from an early age to buckle-up, help it become so automatic they don’t even think about it.

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Customer Service, Events, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Hygiene, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , | 13 Comments

Fintas Observatory

You know me, I’m a newspaper addict. Maybe even a news addict. I read many of the articles to the very end; I read some of the filler articles. Life is a mystery to me, in some of the exotic countries I live in (No, not exotic to YOU, but exotic to a little Alaska girl who finds herself in the fairy-tale lands of Arabia!).

So here is the real question. Every now and then, I find a reference to the Fintas Observatory.

I’ve looked on maps – no Observatory.

I’ve GoogleEarthed Fintas – some parts are still pretty vague, but I see nothing that looks like an Observatory.

The Kuwait sky is often murky with haze – the clear nights we are currently having are a fabulous rarity – but maybe they were more common in the past?

Do you know where the Fintas Observatory is? Do they allow visitors, or is it invitational only?

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Building, Community, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, News | , , , | 9 Comments