Irish warned of fake alcohol amid suspicious deaths

Irish authorities are warning the public about counterfeit alcohol in the lead up to Christmas, claiming fake brews in the country have already taken lives.

The Office of the Revenue Commissioners did not reveal a figure for the deaths but said there were a number of suspicious deaths in Ireland that could be linked to bogus alcohol.

"Alcohol is a high-risk product. If you look up the Czech Republic or Turkey for counterfeit alcohol deaths, you will see there has been scores of people who have passed away," Pat Gralton, Revenue enforcement manager in the Border Midlands West Region told The Journal. "I don't want to go into too much detail but there are suspicious deaths in Ireland with it as well."

Counterfeit alcohol in the country has become more of a widespread problem, with seizures increasing 100 per cent between 2010 and 2014. Vodka appears to be the most counterfeited type of alcohol.

In June, a Northern Irish bar owner was fined £6,000 for selling fake Smirnoff vodka. Twenty-four bottles of Smirnoff Red No 21 had been found to be counterfeits and had fake labels, with no genuine Smirnoff products identified during investigations. On testing, the alcoholic content was found to be less in the counterfeits and no harmful chemicals were found.

In September, the pub owned by former Irish hurling star Lar Corbett was also found to be selling counterfeit vodka, as was a Belfast social club in August.

Last year, a raid on premises in Louth discovered 4,500 bottles of fake vodka and caught seven people applying counterfeit labels to bottles.

There have been concerns that the introduction of minimum unit pricing may increase alcohol counterfeiting.

Seized alcohol has been found to contain industrial alcohol, such as methanol and isopropyl, that is commonly used in nail varnish remover, windscreen washer fluid, and antifreeze. Chloroform and ethyl acetate are other toxic chemicals also found in the bootleg tipples.

The fake alcohol may induce the feeling of being tipsy but can cause breathing difficulties, liver damage, blindness and, in some cases, death.

"The counterfeiting process is so good, the bottles, the labels, the corkings are very good," Gralton said. "It's almost impossible to detect unless you go in knowing what you're looking for."

He added: "If you're a licensed premises, there's a way of getting stock in. The trader who purchases from someone who just has a mobile number that you ring and you get a delivery isn't doing things by the book."

In a statement, Revenue said the public needed to be vigilant and aware of the possibility of buying counterfeit product. "There are no health and safety standards in the counterfeit business so these fake products are often unsafe or even dangerous."

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