German police have detained a suspect in an extortion scheme that aimed to raise millions of euros from supermarkets by threatening to poison food products at their stores, in a case that stirred unease among shoppers across the country.
The 55-year-old man was picked up by police late Friday in Ofterdingen, near the south-western city of Tuebingen, after tip-offs from the public.
An official arrest warrant was expected to be issued Saturday, a statement from police and prosecutors said.
Officers had been hunting for someone who sent e-mails in mid-September to food companies, consumer protection groups and even to the police in which the writer threatened to manipulate food products in Germany and abroad unless the companies paid up.
The blackmailer had asked for amounts in the range of eight-figures, police said.
Police had been searching for a man seen in CCTV footage released Thursday that showed him depositing food products in a supermarket in the southern German town of Friedrichshafen. Five poisoned bottles of baby food were later discovered there.
Police said that the substance found in the baby food bottles in Friedrichshafen was ethylene glycol, a toxic, odourless, sweet-tasting syrup used in the manufacture of polyester fibres and antifreeze formulations. It is potentially lethal.
Prosecutors said that the suspect had threatened to poison 20 different types of food and that he had references to the names of certain companies in Germany and other countries in the European Union.
Despite the arrest and no evidence to suggest there was more poisoned food on supermarket shelves, police urged grocery shoppers to be cautious.
‘Consumers should remain vigilant when shopping,’ said police officer Markus Sauter.Hundreds of people contacted a special police hotline to offer tips related to the case.
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