Sharp increase in seizures of potentially dangerous counterfeit alcohol in year to date

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The Revenue Commissioners have seized 3.5 times more potentially harmful counterfeit alcohol in the first seven months of 2013 than it did in the full year in 2012.

From The Irish Times

Revenue officials carried out 12 seizures of counterfeit alcohol up to up to the end of July in which 840 litres were seized. This compares to just seven seizures in 2012 in which 232 litres were recovered.

In 2011, 1,309 litres were seized in 20 operations.

A spokeswoman for Revenue said spirits, mainly vodka, was the alcoholic product most likely to be counterfeited. She said the counterfeit alcohol was produced illegally, usually using genuine bottles sourced from recycling centres and pubs. The bottles were filled with raw alcohol to a predetermined level before being diluted with water to a strength equivalent to other alcoholic spirits on the market.

The spokeswoman noted that counterfeit alcohol posed serious health risks as the products were not subject to quality control.

“In many cases, the alcohol is sourced from the industrial alcohol sector and may contain high quantities of methanol,” she warned. “Human consumption of methanol is very dangerous and can have severe and fatal affects including blindness.”

“In premises where illegal alcohol has been detected, it is evident that there is no quality assurance process in place and that hygiene is virtually non-existent.”

She said production of counterfeit alcohol was illegal, constituted tax evasion, undermined the legitimate trade and took funds from the Exchequer.

Under section 79 of the Finance Act 2003, the production, processing, dealing in or delivering of illicit alcohol product can, on summary conviction, attract a fine of €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. Where a person convicted of an offence is a licensee, Revenue may apply to court for a temporary closure of the licensed premises.

In the year to date, one conviction has been recorded and a fine of €4,000 imposed. In 2012 there were seven such convictions which led to fines totalling €17,750.

In addition to seizures of counterfeit alcohol, Revenue made 342 seizures involving commercial alcohol fraud or smuggling in 2012, down from 353 such seizures in 2011.

In a recent pre-budget submission, the National Off Licence Association warned that alcohol products were prime targets for counterfeiters in the European market and that high levels of excise duty in Ireland provided a “high incentive” for counterfeiters.

In its submission, the association said it “would expect the 2013 figures for seizures to be higher than those seen in 2012 because higher excise rates make the process much more lucrative”.

“The key incentive for counterfeiters to engage in illicit alcohol trade is the possibility of achieving high margins,”it added. “Countries with high alcohol duty [eg Scandinavia, Ireland] are more vulnerable to illicit trade in alcohol.”