November 2018 Dailynation;That unusually nasty hangover you feel when you wake up after chugging your favourite pricey whisky brand could be because you consumed a counterfeit drink.
This is because counterfeiters have now started targeting premium liquors in a new smuggling and counterfeiting scam.
With intensified crackdowns on illicit and counterfeit brews still ongoing, unscrupulous traders are now targeting expensive alcohol brands in the market.
While authorities train their eyes on cheaper brands, fraudsters are throwing them off track by going for expensive and luxurious whiskies, brandy and vodka.
In the new scam, illegal manufacturers are packaging substandard alcohol in premium brand bottles complete with Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) excise stamps and even manufacturer and distributor batch numbers even as the latter disowned some of the brands insisting the batch numbers were fake.
“Illicit alcohol is the single largest issue affecting our industry right now. We estimate that 50 per cent of alcohol being consumed across Kenya is illicit. It is either traditional or counterfeit alcohol brewed illegally and in unhygienic environments or that whose tax has not been remitted, as required by law,” East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) Corporate Relations Director Eric Kiniti told the Nation.
A recent inspection in entertainment joints around Nyeri and Meru revealed fake products being packaged as established liquor brands and sold to unsuspecting customers.
In one of the joints inspected, brands of whisky going for as much as Sh9,000 per 750-millilitre bottle were found to lack basic certification from the KRA.
Data from the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse shows that in 2017, more than 3.3 million Kenyans were consuming some form of alcohol. Portable spirits are the most consumed due to their affordability and availability in small packaging.
Lobby group Scotch Whisky Association 2015 data indicates Kenyans’ consumption of Scotch whisky stood at Sh568 million.
An inspection unit from EABL during a sensitisation in Nyeri Town over the weekend, pointed out that some of the batch numbers on liquors supposedly under their distribution chain were fake.
Interestingly, the drinks had valid excise duty stickers with a Quick Response (QR) which validated the product after scanning with KRA’s Soma Label mobile application.
This is an indication that illegal distributors and manufacturers are managing to get valid stamps from KRA in suspected back-door arrangements.
Two bartenders were arrested at a popular joint over the weekend after they were caught selling uncertified brands. Some of the brands lacked basic health warning stickers in what the inspection team termed as a serious health risk to consumers.
The two were taken to court on Monday and charged with selling contraband products and alcohol without a health warning.
The EABL team said that such drinks are likely to cause adverse after-effects to consumers, which on most occasions, is characterised by nasty hangovers and at times alcohol poisoning.
A huge section of the premium brands in the market currently is suspected to have been smuggled into the country.
Queries to KRA over the discoveries have so far gone unanswered.
While many retailers seem unaware of the products they have been selling, some have devised crafty methods to dupe customers and authorities; they sell fake alcohol alongside legitimate brands.
They use the legitimate brands on display in case of random checks but serve the contraband and substandard brands to customers.
Distillers maintain that the scam continues to create an uneven playing field in the liquor business.
“These illegal players do not pay tax and thus deny legitimate players a level-playing ground and economy the much-needed revenues to grow. Besides, this illegal business drives other forms of crime such as money laundering and terrorism,” Mr Kiniti said.
A multiagency crackdown against illicit spirits has continued to bear fruit, but security operatives are being challenged to up their game.
“The recent multi-agency enforcement activities have been encouraging, but there is a pressing need for strategic and sustainable efforts to fully eradicate illicit alcohol in future,” Mr Kiniti added.
Central Regional Commissioner Wilson Njega said that the crackdown will continue attributing recent success to the sustainability of the operation.
At least 53 manufactures were shut down in the crackdown and more than 4,000 litres of contraband and counterfeit liquor have been seized in the last three weeks.
“The only reason we have made such a stride forward is because it is a continuous sustained exercise. That is the only way we will also make sure the few remaining loopholes are sealed,” Mr Njega said.
The security boss said that agencies like KRA and Kenya Bureau of Standards will be required to come on bo ard regularly to conduct random checks.
“It is going to be even tougher during the holiday seasons. Everybody will be involved including KRA and KEBS to ensure even the premium brands are safe and legal,” RC Njega said.