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Bought counterfeit vodka this Christmas? There's a big chance it was made in a filthy outhouse

The drink is often made in unhygienic locations.

A picture of a makeshift processing facility raided by Revenue last year.
A picture of a makeshift processing facility raided by Revenue last year.
Image: Revenue

COUNTERFEIT SPIRITS, USUALLY made in sheds and outhouses, are once again prominent on the market stalls this Christmas as it emerges that Revenue has seized 816 litres of the potentially lethal drinks.

Revenue said that vodka is the most commonly counterfeited alcohol product - this year they also seized small quantities of counterfeit whiskey and gin.

From January to the end of November 2017, there have been 16 seizures in which Revenue officers seized 816 litres of counterfeit drinks and 4,000 litres of the raw alcohol product, which would produce in the region of 12,000 litres of counterfeit spirits.

This includes smaller seizures in February, August and September in Limerick, Cork and Louth. Revenue officers raided an illegal production facility for counterfeit vodka in Louth in November.

Pat Gralton is the Revenue enforcement manager in the Border Midlands West Region. He described how counterfeit alcohol is very likely to be produced in extremely unhygienic conditions, in sheds or farmyard outhouses, as was the case in one recent operation.

He said: “Legitimate alcohol is made using ethanol, which is safe for human consumption.” He added:

Counterfeiters commonly substitute the ethanol with chemicals such as those used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and car windscreen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and some fuels. These chemicals are very dangerous to human health.

Describing the production process for counterfeit alcohol, Gralton said: “Counterfeiters may use denatured industrial alcohol. They operate with no regard for public health and safety, using a make-shift production facility, and add chemicals to remove the colour and dilute the industrial alcohol. When it gets to the final product, you don’t know what chemicals or other contaminants are in it, or what strength it is.”

Used bottles from bins or skips

Asked how the product is presented for sale, Gralton added that the product is dispensed into used bottles that may have been taken from bins or skips, then re-labelled, sealed and packed using counterfeit packaging.

Anyone who saw the conditions in which all this is done would not want to drink the product.

Gralton added that the vast majority of alcohol in the State is produced and sold legitimately but warned that it is important for both businesses and consumers to be wary.

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Asked for some general advice for the public,  Gralton said: “It is illegal to produce, keep or supply counterfeit alcohol. This illegal activity undermines Exchequer funds, damages legitimate trade, poses a serious threat to public health and often funds organised crime.

“It is in everyone’s interest to make sure you buy from a reputable supplier. Look out for particles or sediment in the bottle, alcohol that smells or tastes bad or poor quality labelling, sealing and packaging. The bottom line is that if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

In the year to the end of September 2017, Revenue published details of four cases where fines or other penalties were imposed by the courts on conviction in respect of Revenue charges for possession of counterfeit alcohol for sale.

Read: New tax defaulters list shows broadcaster Tom McGurk owed Revenue €75,000 >

 Read: Revenue might owe YOU money and it wants you to claim it back >

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