Bottles seized in former Tipperary star Lar Corbett's pub contained 'counterfeit vodka'
COUNTERFEIT vodka was discovered by Customs & Excise officers during an inspection of the pub business of Tipperary hurling star Lar Corbett, a court heard.
The allegation came as Marlstone Investments Ltd., which operates Lar Corbett's Bar at Coppingers in Thurles, contested a Revenue Commissioner charge that it had spirits for sale on which the correct alcohol tax had not been paid.
Marlstone Investments challenged the single charge brought by the Revenue Commissioners before Thurles District Court under the Finance Act, 2003.
Mr Corbett, who is a director of Marlstone Investments, attended the case before Judge Elizabeth MacGrath but did not address the hearing.
Judge MacGrath adjourned her ruling in the matter until next week to allow Michelle O'Connell, for the State, to address a number of legal issues arising.
Padraig de Burca BL, for Marlstone and Mr Corbett, challenged the Customs & Excise inspection findings and the fact that vodka samples were not taken from either a drinks wholesaler or an off-license.
This was despite the fact Mr Corbett supplied Customs & Excise officials with receipts which confirmed he had purchased 36 bottles of 700ml Smirnoff vodka from them between December 29 2014 and January 25 2015.
Customs & Excise officials, Sean Moloney and Sara Cushnahan, testified that they inspected pubs in Roscrea, Nenagh, Borrisoleigh and Thurles on January 29 2015.
During an inspection of Coppinger's Pub, a special 'authenticator' device issued by Diageo indicated irregularities with 23 bottles of 700ml Smirnoff.
These largely involved the appearance and seal of the bottles, not the contents, but raised issues over the authenticity of the drink product involved.
The bottles were detained and a sample from one was sent to the State Laboratory.
Diageo also received one of the Smirnoff bottles involved.
Diageo official Colin Cushley informed Customs & Excise that the Smirnoff involved was counterfeit.
Mr Cushley said the label and seal were not genuine - and that while the glass bottle was genuine it had originated in the UK and not Ireland.
State Lab official Michael Doyle said he tested one of the 750ml bottles involved and found that it had an alcohol content of 34.1pc rather than the 37.5pc level required by EU law.
He also told the court that the product in the bottle was not Smirnoff vodka.
"It was not pure vodka...nor was it Smirnoff vodka," he said.
Mr Doyle also confirmed that tests indicated the presence of "denaturisers" in the product, additives that are usually only included for commercial reasons.
However, Mr de Burca claimed the prosecution was flawed because Customs & Excise did not seek samples from vodka in the wholesaler or the off-license identified by his client.
He also said the State had failed to offer sufficient evidence as to the precise tax issues involved.
Mr de Burca stressed that his client had co-operated fully with the investigation and had submitted detailed receipts as to where the vodka originated.
Judge MacGrath adjourned the matter until September 27 for legal submissions.
The single count alleges that, on January 29 2015, at Coppinger’s Pub,4 Parnell Street, Thurles, Co Tipperary there were “for sale or delivery specific alcohol products, to whit 16.1 litres of spirits, on which the appropriate rate of tax had not been paid.”
The charge is brought contrary to Section 79 (2) of the Finance Act, 2003.
Lar Corbett (35), who retired from inter county hurling in 2015, ranks as the Premier County’s all-time scorer.
Over his 15 year career he won two All-Ireland titles with Tipperary, as well as six Munster championships and two National Hurling league
He received three All Star nominations and was a recipient of the Hurler of the Year honour.
The Thurles Sarsfields player is considered one of the outstanding forwards of the past 25 years.