IRA moonshine operation smashed by Customs officers
THE counterfeit vodka operation uncovered by Customs last week is part of a multi-million euro IRA moonshine operation that has been running in the Border area for more than two decades, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
While Customs and police on both sides of the Border were aware of the operation, they had never been able to trace the plant until last week.
Last Wednesday, Customs officers seized some 110,000 bottle caps and 400,000 fake labels for well-known brands at a shed in Kilcurry, Co Louth. They also seized bottling plant and 500 cardboard boxes. Two men were detained but released without charge.
The bottling plant is believed to be just part of the IRA's illicit alcohol operation and Customs and police have still to discover whether or not there is still a distillery in operation in the Border area.
Alternatively, the IRA might also be sourcing the alcohol from a foreign supplier, possibly in Eastern Europe, where it has had links to the illicit tobacco trade going back over 20 years.
The IRA's distilling operations began in a small way as far back as the early 1990s when the counterfeit bottled "vodka" began to be detected by Customs and gardai and their counterparts in Northern Ireland. It is believed it was begun by former poitin makers along the Border who had IRA associations.
With the end of the Troubles, security along the Border eased and the IRA saw the opportunity to increase its operations. It also produces whiskey which is also sold using the counterfeited labels of popular brands.
The amount of counterfeit labels, bottle caps and cardboard cases found in the raid at Kilcurry, Co Louth, clearly indicated that the IRA has been making and bottling huge amounts of illicit vodka.
Gardai believe they have a large operation which involves both bottling and the collection of large amounts of used spirit bottles from pubs around the country, many of which the IRA own or control. These are then washed clean and the new labels and tops attached. The new product is then sold back to corrupt publicans and vendors in the Republic and the UK.
In Northern Ireland the vodka is known as "Provo" vodka and it is sold widely in shops, taxi depots and even from ice cream vans along with smuggled cigarettes. It is also sold under the counter across the Republic.
After last Wednesday's raid Customs warned that "cheap alcohol from an irregular source is likely to be counterfeit and could potentially cause serious harm if consumed". They also pointed out that the illicit operation was also taking "much needed funds from the Exchequer and hurts legitimate trade".
The bottle labels found in the Louth plant included brands such as Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Glen's.