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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Seize 3 Tons of Fishy Caviar

Authorities have confiscated three tons of illegal black caviar that might pose a health hazard and was headed for the shelves of Moscow supermarkets, police and prosecutors said Thursday.

Police have also seized more than 100 kilograms of caviar that had already been sold to Perekryostok and Metro Cash and Carry under the brand name Russkaya Ikra, a major player in the caviar market. The caviar was sold in jars with misspellings on the label.

Police uncovered the three tons of caviar, worth more than 15 million rubles ($500,000) at domestic wholesale prices, during a raid of a warehouse on Stroginsky Bulvar in eastern Moscow, police spokesman Filipp Zolotnitsky said Thursday.

The raid came after the city police economic crimes department was tipped off that a criminal group was selling poached caviar that failed to meet health regulations to the city's major supermarkets, Zolotnitsky told Interfax.

Undercover officers were then sent into the stores to buy the caviar and test it.

"It was determined that the product does not meet the safety requirements for the ... health of consumers," Zolotnitsky said.

More than 100 kilograms of the suspect caviar has been removed from two major supermarkets, he said.

Perekryostok and Metro Cash and Carry confirmed Thursday that police had confiscated jars of caviar from their stores.

But Perekryostok spokesman Alexander Barkhatov disputed the claim that the caviar was removed because it was unfit for consumption. "It doesn't mean that it's dangerous or of low quality," he said. "It just means it might have come from a dodgy distributor."

Police identified the caviar by the misspellings on the lids and have removed all suspect jars from Perekryostok, Barkhatov said.

Police seized about 15 jars at the Metro store on Varshavskoye Shosse in southern Moscow, Metro spokeswoman Yulia Belova said.

"Typos on the lid means they are counterfeit, and we are analyzing the outside of the jars, as well as what's on the inside," Belova said.

She expressed skepticism that police had removed a total of 100 kilograms of caviar. "That must be a misprint," Belova said of the Interfax report. "100 kilograms is enough to feed all of Moscow."

No suspects have been arrested and an investigation is under way, said Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the city prosecutor's office.

Prosecutors on May 14 opened a criminal investigation into the suspected production, possession, delivery and sale of products not meeting health standards.

Petrenko refused to discuss the case further, saying investigators want to finished testing the seized caviar first and should be ready to release more information early next week.

Most of the caviar sold in Russia is poached, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The amount of caviar that is legally exported every year is almost equal to the amount that can be legally harvested from Russia's dwindling sturgeon stocks, the organization said in a report last year.

Russkaya Ikra could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Calls to the press office of the police's economic crimes department went unanswered.

A spokesman for the Moscow Health Inspectorate said the tests are needed to determine the possible danger posed by the caviar.

"If it's just that the date of expiration has passed, then it will probably only result in a minor case of food poisoning," he said. "If some microbes have infected it, then it could lead to something more serious."

Depending on the type of microbes, food poisoning symptoms could include vomiting, diarrhea, high temperature, weakness and dizziness, he said.

The spokesman said spoiled caviar might only be deadly if it has been infected with Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, a rare but serious illness.

Three tons of caviar is enough for a banquet of 60,000 people, according to Uley Catering.