UK police tell BeverageDaily.com they are aware that a killer drink laced with cocaine and a massive haul of drug-infused juice found by US Federal officers both bore labels illegally aping brands owned by Trinidad's SM Jaleel & Co.
Tin cans labelled Trinidad Fruit Juice but packed with 332kg of Cocaine (with a $100m street value) and shipped to the Norfolk, Virginia, in the US came from Europe, the Trinidad Express reported on Tuesday May 29.
Updated news of the US seizure – which originally happened in December – followed the death of a UK Navy veteran last December, who consumed a drink laced with liquid cocaine carrying a counterfeit label stealing the name of another brand, Pear-D, from the same company, SM Jaleel & Co.
Tragedy strikes: Victim innocently picked up drink
Jerome Lewis worked for an import/export business, and innocently picked up the bottle after finding it in a Southampton warehouse.
Hampshire Police are still investigating this case – having released five suspects in early April – and say the bottle was part of a Caribbean consignment Lewis’s firm imported.
So far as we are aware, BeverageDaily.com is the only news outlet to spot that Trinidad & Tobago non-alcoholic beverage company SM Jaleel has fallen victim to a counterfeit campaign by unscrupulous drug dealers in both these separate cases.
No more bottles found in UK - Police
A Hampshire Police spokesman told us that, following Lewis’s death no more bottles had been found in the UK, while they could not track the exact shipment containing the bottle down since it was not a product the victim’s company had imported before.
“Yes, we’re aware of the US seizure. I believe we liaised with US authorities to see if there was a connection but I do not know the outcome,” the spokesman said.
However, no charges have been brought against those arrested [in the UK] who have all been released without charge,” he added.
US seizure of cocaine-packed juice with $100m street value
On December 20 2013 US Federal officials found the cocaine – with estimated street value of up to $100m – in a shipping container filled with the cans of reconstituted orange and grapefruit juice, pictured.
Trinidad Express reporter Camille Bethel reported on the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police 29th annual general meeting and conference in Port of Spain on Tuesday May 29.
She said that Robert Kennedy, country attaché for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, told the conference that the drugs found in the US originated in Europe.
SM Jaleel & Co. 'shocked and saddened' by UK death
Following December’s seizure, SM Jaleel & Co. took out a series of media adverts in its home country to assert its innocence and says it has been cleared of any involvement in the UK Pear-D incident by Hampshire police.
The fake seizure in the US is still under investigation by Trinidad & Tobago Police and DEA, and SM Jaleel said it had provided enough information to exonerate itself from any involvement in the matter and had been cleared by its national authorities.
Last December SM Jaleel announced a batch-specific recall of its 20oz Pear-D drink in Trinidad & Tobago for precautionary reasons following Lewis’s death in the UK.
“We are shocked and saddened to see our product abused and used in such a sinister manner,” the firm said in a statement.
Interpol February seizure: 430,000 liters of fake drinks
Shining more light on the fake food and beverage problem generally – where the risks to consumers are omnipresent – Interpol said in February it had seized 1,200 tonnes of food and 430,000 liters of drinks via a co-ordinated operation in 33 countries across the Americas, Asia and Europe.
In Italy an organized crime network had manufactured 60,000 bottles of fake Champagne, for instance, and Interpol warned of the scale of the problem.
“Most people would be surprised at the everyday foods and drink that are being counterfeited, and the volume of seizures shows that this is a serious global problem,” Michael Ellis, head of Interpol’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting Unit said.
*Article updated May 13 2014.