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Liquor retailers were fined $244,000 for bottles without legitimate labels

Liquor retailers were fined 4,000 for bottles without legitimate labels

An Auckland Liquor importer and distributor has been fined a total of $244,000 for attempting to sell thousands of bottles of illegal alcohol.

Importer Golden Grand Trading Limited and distributor Mayajaal Holdings Limited were both convicted in the Auckland District Court in April. Earlier, Golden Grand had pleaded guilty to three charges under the Food Act, while Mayajaal pleaded guilty to one charge.

The conviction and fines followed an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) into allegations that the companies supplied illegal liquor to retailers between 2016 and 2019.

“The violation involved both businesses recklessly possessing or selling alcohol for sale, involving approximately 5,534 bottles of imported liquor that either did not have lot codes or were labeled with a lot code that was not genuine,” MPI said.

MPI said the drink had an estimated retail value of $292,526.

All bottles were seized by investigators from the distribution warehouse, with 30 bottles recalled and seven seized from a store. Two others purchased online were also seized.

NZ Food Safety Deputy Director General Vincent Arbuckle said lot codes were used to ensure traceability in the event of a recall and to ensure customers’ products were genuine – which is why the breach was taken ‘seriously’ .

He said the companies were trying to avoid compliance so they could save money.

“Our investigators found that the importers were purchasing thousands of bottles of spirits without removing the lot codes and it was cheaper – by almost 7.5%,” Arbuckle said.

Golden Grand was fined $142,000, and Mayajaal Holdings Limited was fined $102,000. Both companies were ordered to share the $36,000 cost to destroy the alcohol.

Some spilled liquor.

“Label integrity is important, and when companies try to skirt the rules, they are at best misleading consumers and at worst putting them at risk,” Arbuckle said.

He said that in this case the drink was real, but that consumers “deserve to know that the product they are consuming is safe and appropriate.”

“If a recall were to be necessary, the lack of a batch code would make it difficult for us to trace the affected product.

“We take these types of violations seriously and will take legal action to ensure companies do the right thing for consumers.”

MPI said Golden Grand had previously received a warning about non-compliant labeling following an investigation in 2012. Following that investigation, a large quantity of alcohol was destroyed, and Mayajaal Holdings also received letters about requirements under the Food Act.

“Because the drink did not meet the requirements, an application will be made to the court to have the drink destroyed at a specialist waste treatment facility.”

The investigation was part of a broader effort by MPI called “Operation Spirit.”

In 2022, another Auckland importer and two managers were fined for similar offences.

“Our responsibility is to consumers and their safety. People can be confident that all imported food meets consistently high safety standards and is fit for purpose,” Arbuckle said.

“If we find evidence of non-compliance, such as lot code tampering, we will take action, including removing products from shelves and, in serious cases, taking the violation to court.”