Gardaí are warning about a potential danger to public health after an illegal counterfeiting factory was found to be churning out tens of millions of euro worth of spirits with big brand names as well as cigarettes.
The plant uncovered at a warehouse at Knockbridge, Co Louth, early on Saturday had an industrial line which was bottling a rough mix of raw alcohol and water, which was being labelled and passed off as well-known vodka brands Smirnoff and Absolut.
Thousands of counterfeit labels and differing styles of bottles were found during a raid on the premises by gardaí and Revenue officials.
Also in the warehouse is what gardaí describe as a “full machinery plant” which was newly installed to manufacture counterfeit cigarettes and packaging. The labels of the cigarettes were not a brand commonly sold in Ireland.
Some 30 tonnes of raw tobacco was seized at the scene.
“In terms of health, there is a danger to the public in buying counterfeit products as they are not made in controlled conditions where health and safety regulations are implemented,” warned a garda source.
“And also, buying counterfeit goods aids funding for criminality.”
The street value of the cigarettes alone is believed to be in the region of €25 million.
It is thought the loss to the exchequer from the counterfeit cigarettes and alcohol manufactured at the factory would have been the same figure again.
A Garda spokeswoman said no arrests were made during the search and that investigations are ongoing.
Local Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach said he hoped those behind the illegal operation can be identified and prosecuted.
If they were it would send a strong message to others involved in similar criminality, he said.
“My own community of Knockbridge is a small, rural village close to the border and it appears some have been willing to take advantage of that. This morning’s seizure is certainly not reflective of the majority of decent people living in the vicinity. At this point in time I urge anyone with information related to this discovery to contact gardaí in the locality,” he added.
Gardaí said the raid resulted from intelligence gathered by the Cross Border Joint Agency Task Force, set up three years ago to investigate organised crime on both sides of the Border, including paramilitarism.
The body is funded by Governments in Dublin and Belfast and led by senior officials within the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Local gardaí from Dundalk and the Northern Regional Armed Support Unit were also involved.