Shops shut over stolen wine

Top Cellar on Easter Road is one of four shops given a ban
Top Cellar on Easter Road is one of four shops given a ban
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FOUR wine stores have lost their alcohol licences over claims staff sold stolen goods to customers.

The Top Cellar chain has been handed a four-month ban following an investigation by police and Trading Standards officers.

The stores had stocked 1500 bottles of white wine worth around £35 each, but allegedly sold the Sancerre and Grand Cru Chablis labels for just £6.99.

Around 14,000 counterfeit cigarettes were also said to have been found at three of the four premises.

Bosses from Top Cellar – which has branches in Easter Road, Ferry Road, Wester Hailes and Leith Walk – this week faced the Edinburgh Licensing Board, which heard allegations from police that the firm had sold stolen goods.

Owners Norine Aslam, 32, and Zafar Chaudhry, 39, claimed they believed the wine – in reality worth about £52,500 – was genuine when they purchased it at Dover 
earlier this year.

Lawyer Alistair Macdonald told members of the board – comprised of police, licensing officials and city councillors – that his clients had said a rogue employee had been responsible for the operation.

Ms Aslam said her partner, Mr Chaudhry, had been ill and suggested staff had taken advantage of her absence while she cared for him. The firm could provide a receipt showing when the wine was purchased, the board heard.

However, board members said the allegations by police, Trading Standards and HMRC customs officials were of such a serious nature that the licences had to be revoked.

Board member Joanna Mowat, a city centre councillor, said after the hearing: “We have a duty to prevent crime and in addition a licence holder has a responsibility for what goes on in their premises.

“The allegations here are very, very serious offences.

“There’s no question that stolen goods have been found, how they got there is the issue.”

The stash, bought in April, included bottles of Sancerre and Grand Cru Chablis by Jean-Marc Brocard, which is regarded as a high-end vinyard.

The raid on the stores in April is not the first time large stocks of wine have been uncovered in Edinburgh.

In February 2010, the family-run Granton Food & Wines was found to be selling bottles of vodka that had been among £900 worth of alcohol stolen from Asda in Leith.

And in August 2011, stores across the city were searched after police found fake bottles of wine – linked to a major seizure in Liverpool – for sale in a store in Leith.

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com