BLACK market traders are flooding the Capital with “unprecedented” levels of cut-price vodka as tough new penalties are introduced to crackdown on rogue retailers.
Six licensed premises, pictured right, have been snared by customs agents and hauled before booze watchdogs following a major blitz on illegal alcohol sales in the city.
The huge sting – among the largest ever seen in Edinburgh – has spurred licensing chiefs to draw a line in the sand over retailers trying to boost profits by selling black market goods.
Any shops now found to be selling counterfeit or untaxed alcohol could face having their licence revoked – and even first time offenders are in the firing line.
Today, Eric Milligan, convenor of the licensing board, issued a stark warning to firms involved in Edinburgh’s licensed trade industry.
“Everybody can now be assured that strong action will be taken against those that fall foul of licensing laws – there’s no question about that,” he said.
“We are very keen to work alongside all in the licensed trades in the Edinburgh area and ensure there is good practice throughout but where there are things going on that is untoward and unacceptable we will not hesitate to act because it is a very serious matter.
“There are very serious health implications with counterfeit alcohol and tobacco.”
Councillor Milligan, a veteran of the City Chambers, said he was “alarmed” by the number of law-breaking premises that came before the board and claimed it was “unprecedented”.
“The message is you have been warned and we will be evermore vigilant,” he said.
It comes as almost 5,700 litres of beer, wine and spirits were seized by HM Revenue and Customs as alcohol taskforce officers targeted illegal sales across Scotland in May. During the Edinburgh raids, 49 retail sites were targeted with six being hauled before licensing chiefs on Monday.
Paul Waterson, a spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, backs the council’s tough new stance saying there was “no excuse” for black market trading.
He said: “I think licensees who are prepared to knowingly buy alcohol from the black market have got to be prepared to take the full weight of punishment from licensing authorities.
“Edinburgh’s position is perfectly right because there have been incidents where alcohol has been bought in these circumstances and been a very dangerous product.”
Chris Brett, HMRC’s alcohol taskforce manager in Scotland, said: “Anyone handling or selling smuggled alcohol should be aware that HMRC teams are active across Scotland. We are committed to stopping this criminal activity which costs the taxpayer around £1.2 billion in unpaid revenue each year.
“The Edinburgh operation was not a one-off exercise and is part of ongoing work with our partner agencies to combat this crime.”