Buy from authorised outlets to be safe, says customs chief after rice-wine bust Customs officials yesterday warned consumers to be alert for counterfeit food or drink from the mainland, as they unveiled the biggest seizure of illicit liquor in the last two years. The seizure of 3,126 bottles of smuggled Chinese herbal and rice wines valued at $40,000 included 46 bottles of cheap liquor that were being relabelled as expensive rice wine for sale to shops. The warning follows a recent spate of food scandals and comes amid government concern over the standard of some food products imported from the mainland. 'I am appealing to the public to take care, especially when they buy food and drink items. They must purchase from authorised agents. That is the only way to avoid buying such counterfeit goods,' said Ko Kwok-cheung, the divisional commander of the customs general investigation and support division. The illicit wines were smuggled from the mainland by road and disguised as either soy sauce or vinegar. Mr Ko said some were being transferred from large plastic containers into glass bottles with pumps and funnels. They were then relabelled as 'Tianjin Sorghum' with the intention of being sold at a ten-fold profit. Though no wine with this false label is believed to have been sold to shops, Mr Ko said the bootleg version could be distinguished by air bubbles in the labels, because they were simply stuck on by hand using glue rather than machine-pressed onto the glass. Preliminary analysis by government chemists has not yet shown any harmful effects if the illicit Chinese wines are drunk. The seizures were made during a three-day operation that began on Thursday, after customs officials discovered Chinese wines in Hong Kong shops that were not registered to sell the liquor. Two factories in the Yau Tong and To Kwa Wan districts were raided, and officers seized 3,060 bottles of smuggled wine and arrested three men aged between 23 and 42. Customs officials also recovered 46 bottles from seven businesses - including supermarkets, hotels, liquor stores, provisioners, and wholesalers - which had purchased the contraband from the bootleggers. All three men will be charged with dealing with dutiable commodities and face up to two years' jail and a fine of $1 million. One will be charged with the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages without a licence and false labeling of tradeable goods. The latter offence carries a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of $500,000. Mr Ko said customs officers did not believe the shops had colluded with the smugglers. They had bought the wine because it was being sold at a discount. The tax revenue lost was estimated at $14,000.