After a four-month investigation, federal authorities have indicted yet another group of importers for allegedly smuggling Chinese honey into the U.S.
Since September, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have seized more than 5 million pounds of intentionally mislabeled Chinese honey at customs warehouses near 11 U.S. ports or being shipped to honey packing operations.
According to U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill, of the Central District of Florida, said the lengthy investigation of the honey smuggling resulted in a grand jury issuing indictments against three individuals for smuggling honey from China into the U.S.
The bogus honey came from more than 120 large ocean-going shipping containers unloaded at large and small ports throughout the country. Each metal box was packed with 64 steel drums each holding 644 pounds of honey.
Investigators I talked with this week said that field agents expect to seize additional shipping containers of bogus honey, which could result in additional indictments.
The indictment detailed precise instructions for personnel at shipping warehouses to cover or remove labels on the drums and shipping documents, which fraudulently claimed the contents were Rice Fructose Syrup or other similar products. The bogus labels were replaced with new labels saying “amber honey.” The switch, according to investigators, was to avoid paying about $2.5 million in anti-dumping duties.
The duty or tariff of an extra $1.20 a pound was assessed against Chinese honey by the U.S. Commerce Department in December 2001 to stem the flood of cheap, government- subsidized honey being dumped on the U.S. market to the detriment of American beekeepers.
O’Neill says the three men – Chin Shih Chou, 48, from Taiwan; Qiao Chu, 25, from China, and Wei Tang Lo, 48, from Hacienda Heights, Calif. – were arrested after a grand jury charged the trio with smuggling honey from China. If found guilty, each could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
Investigators say the illicit honey was consigned to several major packers of plastic honey bears, jars and jugs.
In previous stories I wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, AOL News and Food Safety News, all the U.S. honey packers we interviewed said they never buy Chinese honey. They loudly insisted that that the hundreds of million pounds of sweet nectar from bees being shipped into the U.S. each year is pure and natural and originates any place but China.
Not so, says federal investigators who say their arrest record proves that’s not the case and the dozen or more criminal indictments that have been made in the last five years all involved Chinese honey.
The largest of the busts happened in Sept. 2010 when 11 individuals and six corporations were indicted on federal charges for allegedly participating in an international conspiracy to illegally import honey from China that was mislabeled as coming from other countries to avoid anti-dumping duties.
(Andrew Schneider also writes for Food Safety News)