The main man behind the entire distribution network of beer and soft alcoholic beverages to over 100 unlicensed pubs, restaurants and hotels of the country’s ‘most happening’ tourist destination, Ella was identified when the Colombo Excise flying squad seized a lorry full of booze over the weekend.
With the detection of a lorry transporting over 1,000 bottles of beer and cider in Ella, the Excise Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) officials from Colombo uncovered a novel method of distributing liquor to hundreds of unlicensed tourist pubs within the purview of the authorities.
Following a lengthy probe, the Excise BSO officials took into custody a lorry transporting booze in Ella and found that the driver did not possess a valid permit to do so.
A senior Excise official said the driver was working for a middle-aged man in the area known by all hoteliers as the main and the only distributor of beer and cider to almost all the unlicensed bars, pubs, hotels and restaurants mushrooming in Ella, that sell liquor to scores of foreign tourists without Excise permits.
The seized lorry was carrying 1,100 bottles of a variety of local and imported beers including cider which was suspected to be valued at over Rs.250,000.
With the arrest of the driver and the goods the man behind the business had allegedly approached the Excise team that went from Colombo, with various benefits, to negotiate a way out of the crime.
To the amazement of the Excise officials, he had then reportedly divulged his modus operandi, on how he used to meet the demands of all unlicensed liquor sellers in Ella.
According to Excise sources, the man is a senior sales agent of a leading liquor store in Bandarawela with a service of over 20 years to date. He had been buying large stocks of beer invoiced to the wine store from his employer everyday and supplied them to Ella in a lorry.
Once the goods reached Ella, he gets his men to unload the bottles in front of another pre-arranged licensed wine store, to divert any suspicions of on lookers. These stocks would then be distributed amongst the unlicensed pubs by using a small lorry or trishaws.
The owner of the business had disclosed to the Excise sleuths that he had to maintain a number of law enforcement officials in various units including that of police on a monthly basis to carry out his trade unhindered.
Some officials had allegedly facilitated a sum of Rs.100,000 on a monthly payroll in addition to a daily quota of booze as a token of appreciation, the sources said.
On an average day he distributes a minimum of 75 beer cases (each containing 12 bottles) to these unlicensed joints and his main client is a very popular and demanding tourist pub in the town named ‘Chill’ which does not possess a license to sell alcoholic beverages. An average of 40 beer cases is sold to this particular restaurant every day, Excise sources said.
Likewise, the distributor earns a sum of Rs.50,000 through this business on a daily basis as he charges a delivery cost of Rs.50 per bottle and an average income of Rs.1.5 million a month. Having paid for his overheads (including payments for his supporters and the officials on payroll to keep a blind eye) the distributor takes home a clear profit of Rs.750, 000 a month, the sources said.
With his failed attempts to lure the Excise officials who conducted the raid, the stock of beer along with the driver who transported it was produced before the Bandarawela Magistrate’s Courts.
OIC Excise BSO Chief Inspector P. N. Hemantha and the team conducted the raid on the instructions of Excise Commissioner General R. Semasinghe, Deputy Commissioner (Crimes) Kapila Kumarasinghe and Superintendent BSO Channa Weerakkody.
Since the maximum fine of violation of Excise Ordinance is a mere Rs.120, 000 at a court of law and the lack of provisions in the ordinance to counter modern-day crimes such as to arrest the mastermind of an illicit trade unless he was caught red-handed, the main distributor of this case goes scot-free in this instance, the Excise sources further said. (Kurulu Koojana Kariyakarawana)