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Whisky ‘fraudster’ registers ‘Chivas Sisters’

A mystery whisky ‘scammer’ has registered almost 100 bogus spirits firms with the UK’s Companies House, using names including Chivas Sisters and Diageo Labels Limited.

Bogus spirits mogul Tofikuddin Ovaysi. Image: Forum.pravda

Tofikuddin Ovaysi has named himself as the director of the 96 businesses and claims to be a Russian national residing in Ukraine.

The ‘companies’ – which also include Brown-Forman Corporation (Spirits), Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard Ltd and Balvenie Distillery – William Grant&Sons Ltd – are all registered to the same London address.

Ovaysi claims to have millions in capital across the 96 companies, including £1.57 million (US$1.95m) tied up in Chivas Sisters and £3m (US$3.7m) in Diageo Labels Limited.

Companies House has been criticised for failing to investigate the name infringements.

In Ukraine, Ovaysi has been wrongfully reported to be the son of former United Spirits chairman Vijay Mallya, according to The Herald, which broke the story.

Commenting on the fraudulent company listings, a Diageo spokesperson said: “Diageo is aware of the company and domain names registered by Mr Ovaysi and our legal counsel are working to address this activity.”

A Pernod Ricard representative said the company is aware of the situation but has no further comment at this stage.

Phil Lynch, director of communications at Brown-Forman, told The Spirits Business: “Yes, we are aware of this individual and his actions. In fact, we have already taken legal action against him. We will continue to pursue this, as we actively protect our rights and taken appropriate legal action when necessary.”

David Williamson, the SWA’s Public Affairs Director, added: “Scotch whisky businesses, like all the companies targeted, need to be vigilant to potentially fraudulent activity of this kind.

“Whilst this is a responsibility for individual companies, part of the SWA’s role is to uphold the high quality reputation of the Scotch whisky industry and we will continue to support our members as best we can.”

According to Companies House, registering a business does not provide a company with proprietary rights to any part of the name.

“The possibility that the company may have a trade mark in any element of its name has no bearing,” a spokesperson told The Spirits Business.

“Applicants are advised to check the Trade Marks Register of the UK Intellectual Property Office to ensure that a proposed name does not infringe an existing trade mark.

“A company can be required to change its name following a complaint if the name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index; the name is the same as a name associated with the complainant in which he has goodwill; or it is similar and is likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant. This is called ‘opportunistic registration’.

“The Company Names Tribunal, also a part of the Intellectual Property Office, considers complaints about opportunistic registration and may issue an Order requiring the company in question to change its name.”

Last month a London-based spirits counterfeiter was apprehended by the Metropolitan Police after secondary market spirits sales site Whisky.Auction discovered suspicious bottles during routine authenticity checks.

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