Ingredients company Alfred L Wolff is vigorously denying accusations against two of its US executives who were arrested for allegedly importing honey from China mislabelled as coming from Russia and the Ukraine.
Honey imported from China to the US necessitates antidumping duties to make up for alleged unfair influences on competition, as the exported product is lower in price than what is normally paid in the home market.
Prosecutors alleged the honey imported by two employees from the Chicago offices of the Hamburg-based company was falsely labelled so as to avoid paying this antidumping fee, according to the Associated Press.
Furthermore, the honey was said to contain an antibiotic that is not approved in the US for use in food-producing animals, such as bees.
Alexander Wolff, managing director, confirmed to FoodNavigator.com that two employees have been arrested.
"We are mainly accused to have imported honey into the US in violation of custom regulations with respect to declarations of origin to avoid antidumping duties," he said.
"These accusations are wrong and shall be rebutted and we will defend ourselves against these allegations with all legal means.
Wolff said he was unable to comment on the matter in further detail due to the ongoing proceedings and based on the advice of attorneys.
The company provides a wide range of floral and organic raw honeys as well as customised honey blends for use in the industry. Other activities include the production and distribution of hydrocolloids and liquorice extract.
Back in February, federal agents took samples from nine containers of honey that were market as having come from Russia. Antidumping duties are not applicable for this origin.
However, tests showed three of the nine containers were from China, claimed the Associated Press. Another batch labelled as coming from the Ukraine was also found to be sourced from China.
Then, after searching Wolff's Chicago offices, investigators found a shipment of the honey was sold to a company in Texas, despite containing the illegal antibiotic. And 57 tonnes of "Light Amber Polish Honey" may also have come from China.
The two were arrested at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Friday.
The current charge is said to carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 (€159,440) fine. A bond hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.
Recent Wolff activities
Wolff has subsidiaries in North America, South America, China, Hong Kong, Hungary and Romania, and holds an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certificate.
The company was founded in 1901 and is currently undergoing strategic changes as it moves away from lower value ingredients and focuses on gum arabic and agar agar.
As of the beginning of March, the company sold off part of its business to German distributors, A2 Trading, for an undisclosed amount.
In this business move, Wolff ceased its distribution of the hydrocolloids guar gum, xanthan, carrageenan, tara gum and locust bean gum, to focus on its key products.