Spanish Authorities Bust Counterfeit Whiskey Ring Worth Nearly $1 Million
If Spain's La Guardia Civil and the country's Tax Agency appear to be celebrating this week, it might not have anything to do with the holidays. According to Food Safety News, the two agencies recently busted a multi-national criminal network that had been producing and distributing counterfeit whisky.
After the dust settled and the paperwork was completed, 14 people between the ages of 37 and 52 had been arrested. The bogus bottles were estimated to be worth more than €800,000 ($970,000) and the damage to the legitimate whiskey brand—which has yet to be identified—could've been as much as €4 million ($4.8 million).
The criminal enterprise worked out of Campo de Criptana, Jaen, and La Rioja, and each base was responsible for a different aspect of the alleged fraud. In Campo de Criptana, which is in the southwestern province of Ciudad Real, "an Asian businessman" imported counterfeit tax stamps and sourced fake glass bottles, labels, and caps that were low-cost replicas of what the legit whiskey brand used.
In La Rioja, the "alcoholic mixture" that was passed off as high-quality booze was made and decanted into the knock-off bottles, and they were sent back to Campo de Criptana to be sealed, labeled, and prepared for shipment. After that, they would be distributed through what was described as "a legitimate firm."
According to the authorities, more than 300,000 whiskey bottles, 171,200 fake tax stamps, and 27,000 cardboard boxes bearing the logo of a "well-known" whiskey brand were seized in the raid. They also collected 9,550 liters of alcohol, 11,200 liters of 'whiskey' that was ready to be bottled, and 36,460 bottles that were awaiting shipment.
This six-figure bust was the country's second in less than six months. In July, Spanish authorities arrested six people in Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid for allegedly manufacturing and marketing counterfeit wine, brandy, and other spirits. The knock-off beverages were sold in Spain, and were reportedly exported to Austria, Belgium, France, Holland, Moldova, and Russia; the alleged fraudsters apparently worked through a complicated network of 60 businesses, warehouses, and factories that were scattered throughout those seven countries.
The investigation began when customs officials and members of the Ciudad Real Civil Guard started to look a little closer at several companies who were importing and using some nontraditional ingredients—like corn syrup—in their supposed alcohol production. After searching the homes and businesses of the alleged suspects, they'd seized enough "computer-based documentation," paper docs, and product samples to make the arrests. (They also found four illegal firearms "by chance.")
Yeah, if those fraud-busting officials want to raise a glass, it seems like they deserve it. And, thanks to their efforts, they'll probably be more confident that they're drinking the real thing.