The Irish Independent revealed on Sunday that the operation uncovered by police and customs officials last Friday was known to the authorities on either side of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The seizure last Wednesday of 110,000 bottle caps and 400,000 fake labels in County Louth, Ireland (towards the east of the border with the North) involved well-known brands – including Diageo’s Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Glen’s – according to the paper.
A bottling plant and 500 cardboard outer cases were also found, along with a bottle filling machine; while two men were detained they were later released without charge.
Distillery may still be operating
The paper says it is believed that the bottling plant is just part of the IRA’s multi-million euro illegal alcohol operation, and customs and police say a distillery may still be operating in the border area.
For the uninitiated (sorry if this is unnecessary), the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a republican military organization that opposes Northern Ireland’s union with the rest of the United Kingdom and supports a united Ireland.
Alternatively, they say the alcohol may originate from abroad, from Eastern Europe perhaps, given IRA links to an illegal tobacco trade dating back 20+ years.
Sign of a sophisticated operation?
According to the Irish Independent,the Irish police or Gardaa Siochana believe the IRA runs a sophisticated operation that involves collecting used spirits bottles from pubs in Ireland, many of which it controls.
After washing and filling, the ‘new’ product is then sold back to publicans and vendors in the Republic of Ireland and the UK on the black market.
In Northern Ireland the vodka is reportedly known as ‘provo’ and is sold in places as varied as ice cream vans and taxi depits, the paper says.
“Revenue would like to remind the public that cheap alcohol from an irregular source is likely to be counterfeit and could potentially cause serious harm if consumed,” Irish Revenue said in a statement.
“It also takes much-needed funds from the Exchequer and hurts legitimate trade,” the body added.