The men were all charged with Conspiracy to Cheat the Revenue. A sixth man will be sentenced on 5 December 2011.
The plot was uncovered in an industrial unit by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) when they carried out raids in September 2009. They seized 9,000 bottles of fake vodka, branded as Glen’s, manufacturing equipment, bottles and counterfeit packaging – labels and cardboard boxes, at the remote industrial unit at Moscow Farm near Great Dalby, Leicestershire.
The court heard there was a complete lack of any fire safety measures which posed a serious and life threatening hazard. The alcohol vapour alone could have triggered a major explosion if the lights had been switched on or a naked flame or cigarette had been lit.
Simon De Kayne, assistant director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said:
“This was a substantial production, bottling and distribution plant with the infrastructure to distribute large quantities of counterfeit Glen’s vodka throughout the country. But it was set up without any thought for the safety of those working there or in the area nearby.
“The gang were fully aware the counterfeit vodka they manufactured contained highly dangerous chemicals making it unfit for human consumption, but were interested only in making a profit at the expense of British taxpayers. The revenue loss to the Exchequer on this haul alone was £1.5 million.”
Judge J Sampson, on sentencing the men, said: “This was fraud on an industrial scale. You set out to make as many bottles as humanly possible. If not discovered it would have gone on and the duty loss would have been unquantifiable.”
The bottles of vodka seized featured professionally printed labels, duty stamps and bottle tops – all of which were counterfeit. In the raid over 25,000 litres of pure denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) was seized, enough to make around 100,000 bottles of vodka.
Denatured alcohol is used as a solvent is coloured purple to distinguish it from drinkable alcohol as it is not fit for human consumption. Bleach was used by the gang to remove the colouring to make it clear before diluting to the required strength.
Evidence revealed that at least a further 165,000 bottles of fake vodka were manufactured at Moscow Farm during 2008 and 2009.