Diplomats in Bangladesh earn hugely by illegally selling liquor


While most of the bars and social clubs in Bangladesh neither import not purchase alcohol from legitimate source, they are making hundreds of millions of takas every month by selling alcohol which they collect mainly from two channels – diplomatic warehouse and diplomatic missions in the country. Well-organized rackets are involved in collecting alcohol from diplomatic and bonded warehouses through backdoor and sell it to their prospective customers in bars and social clubs, while another racket collects duty-free alcohol from members of the diplomatic corps in the country and sell it to individual customers, bars and social clubs.

Describing reason behind bars and social clubs not importing alcohol, a bar owner seeking anonymity said, there is high import tariff, bureaucratic nightmare and artificial complications created in importing alcohol. This is the main reason they are compelled to buy alcohol from local sources – mainly bonded and diplomatic warehouses and diplomats although the government loses huge amount and earns almost nothing out of this process.

The owner further said, if the government is to encourage import of alcohol by bars and social clubs, it should bring down the exorbitant tariff and simplify the import process. On the other hand, for the sake of saving the society from addiction to dangerous drugs such as ice pill, yaba etcetera, the government needs to allow sale of locally produced beer, such as ‘Hunter’ to the public and even make it available at major super stores. Once it is done, the sale of locally-produced beer shall increase many folds, which will help the government in earning millions of dollars every month as taxes.

According to a credible source, average sale of a bar with five outlets in Dhaka and Narayanganj is selling alcohol worth BDT 10 million every day, while it was alleged that this bar does not have license to import foreign alcohol. Although all the bars in Bangladesh are almost openly selling foreign-made beer and alcoholic beverage, including premium whisky and vodka, they are only allowed to sell liquors produced by Carew & Company and Crown Beverage.

Carew & Co (Bangladesh) Ltd is the only licensed distillery producing alcohol made from sugar molasses in Bangladesh. It produces Fine Brandy, Cherry Brandy, Yellow Label Malted Whiskey, Imperial Whiskey, Old Rum, Rosa Rum, Gold Riband Gin, Orange Curaçao, and Tsarina Vodka (also known as Jorina Vodka). On the other hand, industrial conglomerate Jamuna Group’s Crown Beverage Limited produces ‘Hunter’ brand beer.

Although the bars and social clubs do not import even one liter of foreign alcohol, they are openly selling foreign brands such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Blue Label, Royal Salute, Chivas Regal, Black Label and many other brands, including comparatively cheaper brands such as Red Label, Passport, Teacher, VAT-69, Black Dog, 100 Pipers etcetera to local consumers. Expensive whiskey and wine bottles glisten on the bar cabinets, while imported beer such as Heineken, Budweiser, Corona, Carlsberg, Beck’s etcetera is sold from refrigerators. They are all crops of a clandestine liquor business that is thriving in the country abusing the duty-free imports for diplomats and through smuggling, taking advantage of a restrictive and high tax policy.

According to sources, the absurdly high tax on liquor, which as more than 605 percent actually does not bring any gain to the government as this exorbitant taxed discourage everyone from importing liquor. For this particular reason, almost the entire business runs illegally. At the same time, despite huge demands of locally produced beer, as it is comparatively much cheaper than the imported brands, it cannot be made available as per demand due to tougher laws applied to sale of locally produced beer in the market where bureaucracy bans its open sale showing the excuse of Bangladesh being a ‘Muslim nation’. For this reason, despite huge demand, Crown Beverage Limited is unable to produce even 10 percent of the total demand. Meaning, rest of the demand is meted by imported beer, where Bangladesh loses precious foreign currency.

According to a report published by The Daily Star, in 2016, narcotics department demanded an answer to a puzzle from four top social clubs spread over the posh areas of the capital.

“Analyzing relevant documents and records, we can see that you have neither imported nor purchased any alcohol since obtaining the license. Even so the club routinely serves alcoholic drinks to its respected members. It is puzzling how the club is serving alcoholic drinks to its members”, reads the letter dated September 24, 2016, to a prominent club.

The club in question obtained its bar license in 1982 and did not have an import license when the narcotics department issued the letter. This means, the club could buy foreign liquors only from the Parjatan Corporation, the official importer who can sell to others. But Parjatan Corporation’s sales data for 2015-2017 show it did not.

In separate letters issued between April and September 2016, the narcotics department, which is under the Ministry of Home Affairs, brought similar charges against the three other clubs. They did not import or buy any liquor from Parjatan Corporation for between three and nine years.

The department asked the four clubs to explain their operations and reveal the source of their liquor. In response, one of the clubs in a letter dated April 17, 2016 said, “Our foreigner members bring their own liquor to drink on the club premises … Also, we bought 64.5 liters of liquor from Carew and Co [the only state-owned liquor producer and exporter] around August/September of 2014 to serve our guests”.

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