An Auckland liquor importing company and two staff have been fined $151,200 for attempting to sell thousands of bottles of illegal liquor and avoiding rules in place to protect consumers.
Ace Health Limited, along with managers, 37-year-old Bosheng Wang and 38-year-old Zhimin You, were yesterday sentenced on a total of seven charges under the Food Act 2014 in the Auckland District Court, following a successful prosecution by New Zealand Food Safety.
The company was fined $108,000 and Mr Wang and Mr You were each fined $21,600 for supplying thousands of bottles of spirits that had the lot codes removed or interfered with.
Lot codes are unique and laser-etched into the glass of the bottle or printed on the label.
They ensure traceability in the event of a product recall and assure consumers that the product contents are genuine and have not been changed in any way.
The company and managers earlier pleaded guilty to seven charges under the Food Act 2014, for importing and possessing for sale or selling non-compliant liquor between 1 January 2017 and 2 October 2020.
New Zealand Food Safety deputy-director general, Vincent Arbuckle says the importers would have saved about 7% of the cost to buy the compromised bottles.
“The importer stood to gain a significant profit by purchasing large quantities of illegal liquor at a discounted price. In total 3,916 non-compliant bottles with a wholesale value of about $278,000 were seized. The estimated retail value of these bottles was about $330,000,” said Mr Arbuckle.
“Label integrity matters and when businesses try to get around the rules, they are at best deceiving consumers, and at worst putting them at risk.
“In this case, our testing showed that the product was genuine, but that doesn’t excuse the offending. Consumers deserve to know that the product they are consuming is safe and suitable and the lot numbers help provide that assurance. Also, if a recall was required, the lack of lot code would make it difficult for us to trace affected product.
“We take this type of offending seriously and will take action to ensure businesses do the right thing by consumers.”
New Zealand Food Safety investigated Ace Health Limited in 2019, finding hundreds of bottles which either had no lot code or the lot code removed.
Further inquiries by New Zealand Food Safety and New Zealand Customs led to the interception of five containers imported by Ace Health Limited containing many bottles of liquor with no lot codes.
As the liquor was non-compliant, it had to be destroyed. An aggravating feature of the offending was that the company had received a warning in 2017 about purchasing illegally marked liquor but continued dealing with non-compliant overseas suppliers.