"To the delight of headline writers everywhere," said The Economist last week, "it appeared a maple-syrup mob was involved" in the theft of six million pounds of the stuff from the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve last fall. Yes, that was delightful. See "Who Stole the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve? And How?" Lowering the Bar (Sept. 14, 2012); "BREAKING: Maple Syrup Found "(Oct. 3, 2012); "Three Arrested in Connection With Maple-Syrup Heist" (Dec. 18, 2012); cf. "Oooh, Look At Me, I Read The Economist!" The Onion (Apr. 24, 2002).
On Tuesday the Canadians gave us one more free taste by announcing that they had, after a year-long manhunt, arrested the last suspected member of the Maple Syrup Gang.
A total of 23 people have now been arrested in connection with the theft, which apparently took place incrementally over the course of a full year. The Economist offers at least one detail about it that is new (at least to me): "The larceny was discovered after an accountant climbed a stack of barrels to take inventory and nearly toppled an empty one." We'd have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling accountants! I've seen many different estimates as to the size of the caper overall. According to the most recent report, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (which the report describes as "the OPEC of the maple syrup world") keeps about 40 million pounds in the GSMSR, which it uses to stabilize prices. The thieves are said to have gotten away with about 15 percent of that, something like 9,600 barrels at 620 pounds per barrel, and worth about C$18 million.
Two-thirds of the stolen syrup has been recovered, some of it from syrup dealers in other provinces (the GSMSR is in Quebec) and in the United States. None of them knew anything about the heist, of course. The Economist did take the opportunity, though, to note that some merchants are not happy with the Federation's nearly complete syrup monopoly, implying that some of them might not have asked too many questions when a door-to-door syrup merchant showed up with a tanker truck. See also "The Maple Syrup Cartel: Quebec's syrup monopoly helped spawn smuggling, prohibition style," National Post (Feb. 16, 2013).
Indeed, the Post article notes the similarities to Prohibition and the "War on Drugs," including the emergence of a thriving black market and alleged civil-rights violations by agents of the Federation. "Inspectors use aliases to stage phoney illegal syrup deals to ensnare bootleggers, just like undercover police conducting drug stings," the article states, and the cops have seized millions of dollars' worth of syrup and equipment from people suspected of illegal syrup trafficking. "It's practically like a dictatorship," said the manager of one export company that was completely cleaned out. "They abuse their powers. We're not in Russia," she continued, for some reason still thinking of Russia as the only place where that kind of thing happens. I bet the Canadians at least were polite about it.
Quebec produces about 75% of the world's maple syrup, but that share has been slowly declining over the years, partly due to increased competition from U.S. producers. For now, though, the syrup cartel is back in control.