December 22. 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
The continuing rise in large scale bootleg booze operations in Turkey is a direct response to the skyrocketing taxes on alcohol under President Tayyip Erdogan. Since the beginning of the Erdogan Administration in 2003, the tax on raki has risen an astounding 665%, now accounting for two-thirds the cost of a bottle of raki. The tax hikes on beer over the 14 years of the Erdogan Presidency has caused the price of beer to surge 580%, leading to a spike in home brewing throughout the country. Turkey now counts on the alcohol tax to fund 1.7% of its overall budget. Erdogan, a devout Muslim and opposed to alcohol consumption uses the alcohol tax to discourage alcohol consumption among the 80 million citizens of Turkey.On December 20, 2017 anti-smuggling teams conducted a raid in the Fatih District of Istanbul. The raid was part of a concerted effort to crack down on bootleg booze throughout the Country, keying in on Istanbul. The Fatih District factory was producing bootleg vodka and raki, an anise flavored alcoholic beverage long a staple of the Turkish culture.
The Anti-Smuggling raiding team under the direction of the local office arrested three suspects at the factory. Confiscated by authorities were 5,000 liters of ready for sale counterfeit bottles, distillation equipment, raw materials, along with barrels and containers of pure alcohol.
The month long continuing operation by the Anti-Smuggling squad is in response to media reports of alcohol poisoning from a steep increase in bootleg booze. Throughout the month, Teams have seized 12,000 liters of bootleg alcohol, 130,000 bottles of bootleg raki, whiskey and vodka. As part of the ongoing crackdown, police have raided 250 businesses through Istanbul, including restaurants, bars, and clubs, permanently closing shuttering 11 of those caught with bootleg booze. Throughout the operation agents and police have arrested 46 suspects and recovered 4 guns.
The raid in the Fatih District is symbolic of the history of raki in the Turkish culture. The Fatih District of Istanbul is historically the seat of Constantinople, with a rich history of wine production. A raki type beverage can be traced back to the 5th century, while today’s raki may be a direct descendant of an 11th century beverage produced by the Turkish people, fermented with dried grapes and flavored with anise.
At the current price of a bottle of raki due to the high tax imposed by the Erdogan Administration, the average Turkish citizen must now spend 8.5% of their monthly income to purchase 1 bottle of raki. When the price of alcohol is beyond the means of average people, it opens the doors for bootleg booze to proliferate.
Historical examples of prohibitory alcohol practices and the rise of fake alcohol are numerous. The United States alcohol prohibition era was a failure, leading to organized crime who controlled alcohol production with murder and bribes. Currently, India is experiencing a surge in deaths in States that have imposed alcohol prohibition. The deaths from unscrupulous fake alcohol production has also surged in Malaysian following prohibition.
As Turkey continues to raise alcohol taxes, another 10% raise took effect on December 1, 2017, it can expect the anti-smuggling teams to spend more time coping with bootleg booze. Along with the proliferation of bootleg booze operations, Turkey will see a proportional rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning.
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