MADRID Ė Police have warned consumers that close to a million euros (more than $1 million) of fake ham purporting to be of the prized Spanish variety known as jamon iberico have hit the market after stating on Thursday they had arrested six suspects and placed two more under investigation over the scam.
Detectives seized 4,233 legs of ham that were falsely advertised as jamon iberico, one of Spainís most luxurious foods, some of which comes from pigs fed exclusively on acorns, which has a protected designation of origin status, officials said.
The suspected kingpin of the group was among those held on suspicion of involvement in falsifying labels on porcine products to pass off regular legs of ham for the more upmarket iberico, which must come from pigs that are at least 50 percent Iberian.
The investigation began in March, when the interprofessional association of the Iberian pig (ASICI), an organization that seeks to safeguard the strict regulation in the jamon iberico market, officially denounced to a public health board in the capital Madrid the alleged sale of fraudulent ham.
Following the complaint, agents from the Guardia Civilís environmental department searched a property just outside the capital, where they seized 42 legs of ham.
This first haul provided officers with a lead and raids were then carried out on distributors, shops, meat-drying business and slaughterhouses in Madrid, Zaragoza, Salamanca, Toledo, Badajoz, Caceres, Navarra, Barcelona and Avila.
The pork peddlers were allegedly led by a Spanish citizen whose plan involved re-using ASICI labels that had originally been attached to iberico ham sold in previous campaigns.
The fake ham was then deliberately incorporated into batches of genuine products and released for sale.
Investigators were eventually led to a distributor in Avila, a medieval town some 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the west of Madrid, where they seized 4,000 legs of falsely-labeled ham.
Officials suspect that some 14,000 falsified legs of jamon iberico could be in circulation, with a market value of almost a million euros.
Jamon Iberico de Bellota status can be assigned to pork products from a pig that is either 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent Iberian pig raised on a diet of acorns.
Some jamon iberico de bellota, such as a brand called Joselito, can sell for more than $3,000 for a leg of ham.
Serrano ham comes from the more common white pig.