Whisky auction site uncovers fake booze plot
A London-based spirits counterfeiter has been apprehended by the Metropolitan Police after secondary market spirits sales site Whisky.Auction discovered suspicious bottles during routine authenticity checks.
The alleged fraudster submitted bottles to Whisky.Auction to be sold online, which subsequently failed the assessment.
After the alarm was raised, the team visited the seller’s home where they discovered a counterfeiting operation “with a scale of sophistication never before seen” in spirits.
Alongside a genuine collection was a large-scale fraudulent set-up where “hundreds” of old bottles were being refilled with cheaper, younger liquids.
It is understood that rum and other spirits were being re-bottled alongside whisky.
The seller was arrested by Metropolitan Police on suspicion of Fraud by False Representation, and has been bailed pending further enquiries.
Whisky.Auction provided information leading to the arrest, and continues to support the investigation with further evidence.
“Detectives from the Organised Crime Command are investigating an allegation of fraud involving counterfeit whisky,” a Metropolitan Police spokesperson confirmed. “The offence was reported to police on 7 January 2017 and involves purported vintage whisky being sold at auctions in forged bottles and containing non-vintage spirit.
“On Thursday, 2 February a 41-year-old-man was arrested in connection with the investigation at an address in Finchley. He was taken to a south London police station and subsequently bailed to return on a date in early April.”
Whisky.Auction director Isabel Graham-Yooll added: “What we saw at the property was a significant collection, hundreds of bottles, of supposedly valuable liquids that if genuine were unlikely to be available on such a scale.
“This was an immediate red flag and our doubts were justified when we began scrutinising individual bottles.”
Whisky counterfeiting is not new, however the resurgence of interest in old and rare bottlings means that rewards are growing and fakes are becoming more sophisticated.
In December 2016, whisky brokerage firm Rare Whisky 101 (RW101) discovered a counterfeit haul of rare Scotch malt whisky valued at US$1 million, including a fake bottle of Laphroaig 1903.
“There are now some very good quality fakes which have been recently created to fool unsuspecting connoisseurs, collectors and investors into parting with serious money,” RW101 co-founder David Robertson cautioned at the time. “Indeed, the forgeries that we’ve uncovered could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Fake booze can have serious health implications. In 2015, eight people died and a further 20 were hospitalised in Russia after drinking toxic counterfeit whiskey labelled as Jack Daniel’s. In the same year, at least 10 people died in India after consuming fake spirits.
Industry stakeholders are fighting back against fraudsters. In the primary market, multinationals including Pernod Ricard are introducing “connected” bottles to outsmart counterfeiters and provide consumers with assurances their product is genuine.
Meanwhile in September, The Irish Whiskey Association and Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture launched a campaign to combat the sale of counterfeit Irish whiskey in international markets.