June 19, 2018 – Sydney, Australia
Investigative journalists, Riley Stuart and Greg Miskelly, writing for ABC in Australia filed numerous freedom of information requests in pursuit of counterfeit alcohol stories. One of the files they reviewed as part of their freedom of information filing tells the story of a million-dollar outback bootlegger. The reporters pieced together the story that began with an anonymous letter to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), who along with the New South Wales Food Authority (NSWFA) began a joint investigation.
The anonymous letter that spurred on action by the two agencies claimed that an outback firm had avoided the excise tax on more than $30 Million dollars of liquor sales. More importantly for consumers, the counterfeit spirits were produced by mixing pure ethanol with flavorings to mimic name brand liquors. The letter stated that the culprit in change used various aliases to avoid authorities while avoiding detection by moving the operation around the country.
The tipster was most likely a disgruntled former employee as his letter went into detail about the production of the counterfeit spirits. The contents of the letter revealed by the reporters tell of ethanol being distill from brush in out of the way locations. It also told authorities that the counterfeit distiller was now receiving a lot of complaints about the taste of the counterfeit spirits, because his flavoring expert had a falling out and left the business. According to the letter, the new flavoring expert was not as good, with customers complaining about the counterfeit spirits tasting like pure alcohol.
The letter also warned the ATO that action needed to be taken to prevent people from being poisoned. It again went into detail stating that the mastermind counterfeiter was never a licensed distiller. It told of the organization being constantly moved around the country to isolated facilities.
A second letter turned over with the freedom of information request contained within the same file is from a disgruntled customer who stated that a bottle of Red Flag Vodka smelled like nail polish remover. This letter also went on to state that upon drinking the Red Flag Vodka his lips, mouth and throat had a burning sensation.
Authorities were able to trace the origins of the Red Flag Vodka. On December 14, 2016 police raided an outback warehouse only to find that the distillation facility was empty. Police did not find any suspects, they were however able to recover samples of the counterfeited spirits along with ledger books and empty folders bearing brand names of various brand name liquors.
After laboratory tests were conducted on the recovered liquor samples, authorities found large discrepancies in the stated alcohol volume stated on the label and the actual volume of the liquid. This is another grave health concern with counterfeit liquor, inconsistent alcohol volume can lead to alcohol poisoning and death.
It is unclear from the obtain documents if the counterfeiter left Australia after the raid or slightly before. Subsequent investigations concluded that the counterfeiter is now living in south east Asia.
Riley Stuart and Greg Miskelly are to be congratulated for their investigative reporting skills in uncovering this story. Authorities should be more forthcoming with publicizing cases like this to alert the public to these scams that could lead to health problems and death.
Counterfeit liquor is an under publicized crime that is prevalent around the world. Stories of alcohol poisonings and death continue to be uncovered around the world as this billion-dollar illicit business flourishes.
This story shows the massive profits in the counterfeit liquor business. In excise tax alone, it is believed that this liquor counterfeiter made over $30 million dollars in profit, plus more than double that amount on the counterfeit liquor sales.
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