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Packs of sliced beef ham and cheese are placed on the ground image www.crimefiles.net

Packs of sliced beef ham and cheese are placed on the ground as part of a display of illegally imported food falling under restrictions in St. Petersburg, earlier this month. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Kovalev

Moscow: Russian police said on Tuesday it had busted an international contraband cheese operation responsible for bringing 2 billion roubles ($40 million) of the embargoed product onto the domestic market.

Police seized 470 tons of the products, as well as label makers and “documents proving illegal activity,” during more than a dozen raids on warehouses, offices and residences apparently used by the group, according to a statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s website.

It said the Moscow-based ring illegally imported rennet products that it would falsely label as prestigious brand cheeses and sell to supermarkets and distribution centres in Moscow and St Petersburg.

bulldozer destroys illegally imported cheese in Belgorod region, Russia image www.crimefiles.net
A bulldozer destroys illegally imported cheese in Belgorod region, Russia, on August 6.
Two of the ring’s organisers and four other participants, aged 29 to 58, have been detained and face up to 10 years in prison for “especially large-scale fraud by an organised group,” police said.
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Russia has banned imports of dairy products, as well as raw meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, from the European Union, the United States and several other Western countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

When the embargo against imports was first introduced a year ago, the authorities portrayed it as a chance for Russia to develop its domestic agriculture and industry. Instead, a black market sprang up, as evidenced by spray-painted signs on the asphalt in Moscow, with the word “parmesan” and a mobile phone number for anyone who was interested.

specialist controls the process of cheese making at John Kopiski's farm in Krutovo village, east of Moscow image www.crimefiles.net

A specialist controls the process of cheese making at John Kopiski’s farm in Krutovo village, east of Moscow. Russia has marked the one-year anniversary of its ban on Western agricultural products with an order to destroy contraband food. Photo: AP

Earlier this month, Russia destroyed tonnes of imported cheese and other foods.

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