The Turkish government has been accused of stealing olives from Syria and pressing them into oil to pass off as its own produce to EU countries, Fox News reported.

The accusations come after an investigative report from the Spanish newspaper El Público, Turkish government documents obtained and published by Firat News Agency (ANF) and observations from the UK-Based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkey invaded the northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo in January 2018 to protect its interests in the region, in an operation known as Operation Olive Branch, Fox News said. However, Turkish forces and the militias they support have been accused of pillaging olive groves in the Afrin countryside and stealing thousands of olive oil tanks.

Locals who spoke with El Público claimed that Syrian olives had been pressed in local mills which had been taken over by paramilitary forces. The oil was then transported across the border into Turkey where it was blended and labelled as Turkish olive oil before being shipped to EU countries. Turkey is the third largest olive oil exporter t the EU after Tunisia and Morocco.

According to interviews El Público conducted with Turkish sources and ANF documents, at least 5,000 tonnes of olive oil had been produced this way, worth around US$80M.

Fox News wrote that while Turkey had not formally acknowledged the accusations, the Turkish Minister of Agriculture told state media late last year that the government would be confiscating olives grown in the Afrin region to prevent them from being processed and sold by Kurdish forces that previously occupied the area. Turkey views Kurdish insurgent groups demanding separation from Turkey as terrorists.