A special commission of the Costa Rican Congress is opening an investigation into alleged organic pineapple fraud by three domestic companies.
A motion presented by Congressman Francisco Camacho was approved on Thursday by the Permanent Commission on Control of Public Revenue and Expense, with support from five lawmakers.
The investigation will summon Agriculture Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini and Deputy Agriculture Minister Ivannia Quesada Villalobos, as well as the former head of the State Phytosanitary Service (SFE) Francisco Dall’Anese and the board of the National Chamber of Organic Agriculture (Canagro).
In October last year Camacho, along with members of Canagro, denounced alleged irregularities in the export of pineapples falsely labeled as organic to European and U.S. markets, urging authorities to take immediate action.
The companies accused of organic fraud are Del Valle Verde Corp S.A., LyL Proyectos MMV S.A., and Congelados y Jugos del Valle Verde S.A., which are all based in San Carlos in the country’s north.
The document ordering the investigation states that Canagro – whose members cover 95% of national organic pineapple production – has a 2,000-page report written by the SFE showing that the companies in question obtained their organic certificates illegally.
The document also says the issue had been previously reported to the Ministry of Agriculture, but no sanctions were implemented. In October 2016, U.S. authorities became concerned over the alleged fraud, it added.
“The country is threatened with being sanctioned internationally and with international loss of prestige and, if sanctions are imposed, heavy expenditures of money that would come from the public treasury,” Camacho said in the motion.
Response from Canagro
Canagro executive director Oscar Salas has welcomed the development, hoping the commission will restore confidence in the state’s actions. He also said the investigation could implicate various public officials and employees of certifying agencies.
“The opening of the investigation is important because it was done unanimously and with votes by congressmen of the same party as the government, and so the summoning of the Minister of Agriculture and others will have a bigger significance,” he said in a statement sent to Fresh Fruit Portal.
He added that Canagro has also taken legal action of its own at the national level, including a number of criminal proceedings and a lawsuit against the SFE.
“The situation that Congress is going to investigate is very important and has caused a very serious impact on organic pineapple producers associated with Canagro,” he said.
“The entry of this questionable product into the market has caused a sensitive decrease in prices, and some of our members are even on the verge of almost losing their properties.
“It is expected that, given the importance of the issue for the country, and especially for the organic production sector, the work sessions of the Legislative Commision should begin within the next 60 days.”
The representative believes there is sufficient documented evidence to find the three companies guilty of organic fraud and that the investigation will demonstrate serious wrongdoing by the Ministry of Agriculture, the SFE, and personnel from private companies.
“We think it is especially important to investigate the political responsibility of Agriculture Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini and Deputy Agriculture Minister Ivannia Quesada, who, despite knowing what was happening, let their middle managers handle the investigation procedures in an irregular manner,” he said.
“Both the Minister and the Deputy Minister also deceived the members of our Chamber in different meetings by committing to take up this case promptly and seriously, but in reality they didn’t do either.”
Salas also said he hopes this investigation will prompt U.S. authorities to also take action.