A band of thieves operating in rural Spain were busted after making off with over 19 tons of olives, according to local authorities.
The group robbed six farms in the Las Vegas region outside of the capital of Madrid, Agence France-Presse reported. Sixteen people have been arrested, and five others investigated by national police.
“The Guardia Civil has arrested and investigated 21 people behind the theft of 17,500 kilograms [38580 pounds] of olives in the Las Vegas region,” police said.
An investigation into the olive thefts began in January after a farmer reported that over 18,500 pounds of olives had been stolen from his land. Authorities connected the incident to other reports in the area of thefts involving “significant quantities of olives,” The Guardia Civil said.
Then in February, police received reports of five people carrying more than 300 pounds of olives in broad daylight, but they were not able to prove that they acquired them legally, AFP reported.
Police raided two olive presses in the Toledo and Guadalajara regions that were allegedly pressing the stolen fruit into olive oil and arrested those in charge.
Investigators uncovered documents outlining the exchange of more than 19 tons of stolen olives and seized multiple tanks containing more than 1,500 gallons of olive oil.
Those arrested, who are between ages 20 and 57, were slapped with a number of charges including, theft, fraud and receiving stolen goods, according to AFP.
Prices of olives and olive oil have skyrocketed following last year’s severe drought, threatening the world’s supply.
In Spain, which supplies 80% of the world’s olive oil, harvests were down 50%, making it the worst season in the last 15 years, according to Jon Davis, chief meteorologist for Everstream Analytics, a supply chain predictive insights and risk analytics company.
“The wide-scale drought conditions across Europe, Mediterranean countries, significantly impacted the global supply since approximately 80% of the olive production comes from this area,” Davis told Fox Weather last month.
One olive oil producer predicted that Spain had enough olive oil to supply domestic needs and said he believes there will be no olive oil available in the fourth quarter of 2023.
Davis told Fox Weather that olive oil prices in America have risen “30% to 50% depending upon the area.”
Other issues affecting the industry include an olive tree-killing bacteria along with COVID-related production problems and supply issues stemming from the ongoing war in Ukraine.