Alcohol Smuggling and Bootlegging


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  1. Tax Losses Due to Smuggled Alcohol:$5.0 Billion

Statistics and data about alcohol smuggling and modern day bootlegging. Security information collected from various criminal justice programs, research organizations and global security alerts.

In Febraury 2014, Interpol and Europol reported on global raids conducted against producers and sellers of counterfeit foods.

In total, over 1,200 tonnes of counterfeit and substandard food and nearly 430,000 liters of counterfeit beverages were seized across 33 countries. 96 people were arrested by various criminal justice programs during the investigation.

Highlights of the campaign against counterfeit foods:

  • Across Europe, over 131,000 liters of fake oil and vinegar , 80,000 counterfeit biscuits and chocolate bars, 20 tonnes of fake spices and condiments, and 45 tonnes of substandard dairy products were seized by Europol.
  • In Italy, 60,000 bottles and labels of fake champagne was seized.
  • Police in Thailand found over 270 bottles of fake whiskey.
  • $17.2 Million worth of counterfeit foods and drinks were seized in Colombia.

Source:  “Global police swoop seizes millions in fake food, drink,” Channel NewsAsia, February 14, 2014.

Criminal justice programs in Russia reported that sales of counterfeit whiskey in the country may have been worth $230 Million (8 Billion Rubles) in 2013.

Based on sales and import tracking data, the State Statistics Service in Russia reported that retailers sold 9.9 million more liters of whiskey than officially imported. Officials believe that this figure represents the number of counterfeit whiskey bottles sold in the country.

In 2012, an estimated 7.8 million liters of fake whiskey was sold in Russia.

Media in Russia reported that whiskey is the most popular alcohol to be counterfeited in the country, followed by rum and tequila.

Source:  RIA Novosti, “Russians Drank 10M Liters of Counterfeit Whiskey in 2013,” Moscow Times, February 10, 2014.

Criminal justice officials in India estimate that alcohol smuggling for the purpose of avoiding duties costs the Delhi government up to $40 Million (250 Crore) per year.

There is a 60 percent tax on liquor in Delhi. Smugglers purchase bottles of alcohol in the state of Haryana for $35 (2,200 Rupees), where it is sold for $56 (3,500 Rupees) in Delhi.

Between April and December 2013, security officials seized 140,000 bottles of smuggled alcohol during the course of 520 enforcement raids.

Source:  Kumar Vikram, “Murdered by the liquor mafia: How thriving Delhi bootleggers pose a lethal risk to the excise department,” Mail Online India, January 1, 2014.

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In the first ten months of 2013, authorities in Ireland seized 929 liters of counterfeit alcohol across the country. In 2012, the number of fake alcohol bottles  that were seized total 232. Vodka was reported to be the most counterfeited bottle in 2013.

Criminal justice programs state that counterfeiters use legitimate alcohol bottles when making counterfeits. The real bottles are taken from recycling centers or directer from bars and pubs. The bottles are then filled with raw alcohol and then diluted with water to achieve a 37.5 to 40 percent alcohol by volume.

Although bootleg alcohol seizures increased in 2013, the number of cigarette packs seized from the black market decreased in Ireland. In 2012, a total of 95 million cigarettes were seized across Ireland. In 2013, the number of smuggled cigarettes seized decreased to 37.7 million.

Source:  Kitty Holland, “Bootleg alcohol seizures rise dramatically,” Irish Times, December 28, 2013.

In the English city of Sheffield, security officers and public health programs are seeing an increase in illegal bottles of counterfeit alcohol.

In the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year, officials in the city seized 554 bottles of counterfeit alcohol. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the number of fake bottles seized increased to 1,470. Halfway through the 2013-2014 fiscal year, authorities have already seized 2,370 bottles of counterfeit alcohol.

Most of the fake alcohol bottles are marketed as Vodka. After studying the bottles, Trading Standards officials have determined that most of the alcohol that is used in the fake bottles are either cleaning fluids or antifreeze. With the other chemicals, the fake bottles of vodka end up being made of 57 percent alcohol.

Sheffield is not the only city in the United Kingdom facing threats from counterfeit alcohol. In Scotland, security services with HMRC seized 13,000 liters of counterfeit vodka in September 2013 alone.

Security experts state that price is a main cause for the counterfeits. For a single 70cl bottle of vodka, the duty and VAT is $14.52 (£8.89).

Source:  Brian Milligan, “Fake vodka ‘can kill you’ warning to Christmas shoppers,” BBC News, December 20, 2013.

22 percent of the alcohol sold in Costa Rica is sold illegally without the payment of taxes, according to the Finance Ministry. Over 90 percent of the contraband alcohol is smuggled into the country.

Financial authorities also seized 12.3 million black market cigarettes that were being smuggled without the payment of duties in the first 10 months of 2013. The amount of illegal tobacco seized was 5 times higher than the 2.3 million black market cigarettes that were seized in all of 2012.

Source:  Zach Dyer, “Bootleggers make bank with black-market booze, cigarettes,” Tico Times, December 18, 2013.

In a span of two months, 52 people died in Indonesia after consuming alcohol tainted with methanol. Security investigations have found that bar owners have been mixing and producing their own alcohol on the black market in order to increase their profits.

Investigators with criminal justice programs have found that some producing have been using industrial strength methanol to increase the potency of alcoholic drinks. 10 milliliters of methanol is enough create formic acid in a person’s body and cause blindness. 30 milliliters, or the same amount as one shot of liquor, can kill a person.

Source:  Daniel A Witt, “Tackling Indonesia’s black market alcohol problem,” Jakarta Post, Opinion, December 14, 2013.

It was previously reported that up to 42,000 people were dying in Russia each year due to consuming counterfeit alcohol and other illegally made alcohol.

After increase monitoring and enforcement by Russian security services, the number of deaths dropped to around 12,000 in 2010.

In an example of the smuggling, one man stopped in 2013 had 800 bottles of counterfeit vodka and 220 bottles of counterfeit cognac in his truck.

Source:  “Russian Tells Cops Huge Moonshine Trove For Personal Use,” RIA Novosti, November 7, 2013.

Wine industry experts estimate that up to 20 percent of all wine bottles sold worldwide are counterfeits. Previously, it was reported back in 2010 that 5 percent of wine bottles sold were fake.

In court documents rleased in the United Kingdom, it was reported that wine connoissuers in Britain paid up to $11,148 (£7,000) for fake bottles of vintage French wine.

Source:  Henry Samuel, “Fifth of wine sold worldwide is ‘fake’,” Telegraph, November 1, 2013.

Up to 11 percent of all wine sales in the United Kingdom are estimated to have been sold without the proper taxes and duties being paid. The illicit sales causes losses to the government of up to $1.11 Billion (£700 Million), according to HM Revenue and Customs.

Security intelligence states that smugglers divert wine bottles that were destined for sale in other European Union countries where the taxes are lower.

A bottle of wine can be sold for over one British Pound cheaper when taxes are not included.

Source:  “Government loses £700m of tax due to wine smuggling,” Daily Mirror, October 12, 2013.