India: Imported corks fueling illicit liquor business, says state excise dept
By Dhaval Kulkarni
April 28, 2016
Bootleggers are using consignments of fake corks and caps imported from abroad to duplicate premium brands of liquor. These caps, which resemble those of high-end brands, are sourced from China. Some duplicators also use fake bags of duty-free shops to pass off duplicate bottles as original brew sourced from these establishments.
“These rackets have international links. They source fake caps, corks and labels from abroad and use them on bottles of high-end brands after filling middle-grade alcohol in them. These bottles are passed off as originals and sold to unsuspecting consumers at a lesser rate on the pretext that they are sourced from duty-free shops,” said a senior state excise official, adding that there were high stakes in this business considering the premiums involved.
Recently, acting on a tip-off, a state excise team nabbed three people who were buying and selling these fake caps, labels and bags of duty-free shops at Cotton Green. After their interrogation, officials from the flying squad–II unit in Sewri raided a godown in Santa Cruz where more caps were seized and another crackdown on an illegal bottling unit in Khetwadi yielded a stash of 39 empty and 19 full bottles of premium brands with other material.
Four people have been arrested and the seizure includes 6,390 duplicate caps, 260 tops, 6,353 stickers, 400 duty-free bags, 175 imported cartons, two hot-air blowers, 650 seals of a popular vodka brand and 35 velvet bags of a whiskey brand. The total value of the seizure is Rs11.63 lakh.
“The owner of this bottling unit sourced single malt liquor from Goa (which has lower excise duties than Maharashtra) that was refilled in bottles of premium brands,” said sub-inspector BD Phansekar, who was part of the raiding party with inspector MH Shaikh and others.
He added that the caps and other material were imported. “The accused claimed that apart from Maharashtra, they sent this liquor to Gujarat (which is under prohibition) and also Madhya Pradesh and Punjab,” said Phansekar.
He added that investigations, which were being conducted under the guidance of excise commissioner Vijay Singhal and director (vigilance and enforcement) BG Shekhar, would reveal if this duplicate liquor was being passed off as original in wine shops or hotels or even in one-day parties.
“We are also on the lookout for the importer and the transporter,” said Phansekar.
“Enforcing the rule to smash and destroy empty bottles of imported, high-end brands will deprive these duplicators of their raw material,” said a senior state excise official. He added that the state government’s decision to make it mandatory for polyester-based holograms with track-and-trace mechanisms, including around 20 overt and covert security features, to be put up on all liquor bottles, including imported ones, would help reduce the menace.
These holograms cannot be reused. Maharashtra sees around 300 to 400 crore bottles being used every year for liquor consumption. It follows a policy of discouraging liquor consumption through high prices and low sales and has one of the highest excise duty regimes in India.