Illustration by Sam Ward At first, Deyan Stankov thought the fraud was so blatant that no one would believe it. From his office in Ruse, a small Bulgarian city on the bank of the Danube River, Stankov was tracking biodiesel exports from China to Europe as they surged to unprecedented levels. It started in the fall of 2022, and by January, monthly exports hit a peak of over 250,000 metric tons, a level never seen before and nearly double the trade just a year before, according to data from London-based Quantum Commodity Intelligence. When he noticed that exports of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia were also surging to China — up 23 percent year-on-year by value in the second half of 2022 — Stankov grew more suspicious. Palm oil can be used to make biodiesel (as well as consumer products, from cosmetics to margarine) but it is notorious for driving deforestation. In fact, palm-based fuel is so unsustainable that the EU is phasing out incentives for it entirely even as it offerSubscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won't find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.