A police officer displays two bottles containing human fat while another officer holds seized sticks of dynamite during a press conference in Lima in November. Authorities are now investigating the veracity of police claims of a fat-stealing gang operating in Huanuco province. ((Karel Navarro/Associated Press))

Peru's police chief dismissed the head of the criminal investigations unit as authorities looked into suggestions police officers may have fabricated a story about a murderous gang that drained the fat from corpses to sell on the black market.

Gen. Miguel Hidalgo held a news conference Tuesday to announce the dismissal of Gen. Felix Murga, who less than two weeks ago made news around the world when he announced the arrest of three men he said were killing people and selling the fat from their bodies for use in cosmetics.

Medical experts were immediately skeptical a major market exists for fat, saying that while human fat can be used in anti-wrinkle treatments, it is always extracted from the patient being treated.

The macabre nature of the story attracted international attention, but also prompted doubts domestically. The La Republica newspaper soon reported that police in Huanuco discounted the fat-stealing theory, saying the allegations made in the capital took them by surprise.

Former deputy interior minister Carlos Basombrio wrote on a political blog that the wild claim about fat-stealing thieves was possibly an attempt to divert attention away from a recently published story alleging police had killed 46 suspects in 2007 and 2008 in the city of Trujillo.

Police claimed fat was lucrative on black market

Murga and Col. Jorge Mejia, head of the anti-kidnapping unit, had indicated during a press conference that two of the suspects arrested were carrying bottles of liquid fat and told police it was worth $16,000 a litre.

The police officials said there were more members of the gang at large, and that the group's actions may be connected at least 60 people missing in Huanuco province.

The police claims were backed by a video showing the discovery of human remains in the province and the display of two bottles of yellow liquid they said was stolen fat. They said gang members claimed the fat was sold to cosmetic companies in Europe, but could not confirm any actual sales.

Medical experts dismissed the likelihood of a black market in human fat, saying using a product with someone else's fat carried the risk of an immunological reaction, which is why people who do use products with human fat get it from their own bodies.

With files from The Associated Press