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The label of Handover Gin claimed it was made in Hong Kong. Photo: Dickson Lee

‘Hong Kong’s first gin’ was actually made in New Zealand, customs officers say

  • The sellers of Handover Gin even posted pictures of a still online, to pretend the product was locally made, department says
  • Its director, 40, and his girlfriend, 29, have been arrested

A company claiming to sell the first ever gin made in Hong Kong was actually importing the spirit from New Zealand before wrongly labelling it as locally made, customs officers said on Thursday.

The director of the company and his girlfriend have been arrested.

A 750ml bottle Handover Gin, whose label boasts it is “Hong Kong’s first gin”, sells for HK$480 (US$61) in the city, about four times what it was bought for from New Zealand, according to a law enforcement source.

He said unlabelled bottles of the spirit were imported to the city, where the branding was added before the bottles were sold on. That was despite the product’s label saying it was “distilled and bottled” at Hong Kong Distillery, the company’s Tsuen Wan headquarters.

Joy Wong (right), along with Ma Kwong-cho, head of the department’s Trade Description Investigation Bureau, with the goods seized from Handover Gin. Photo: Dickson Lee

Assistant Superintendent Joy Wong Sek-yan, of the Customs and Excise Department’s revenue and general investigation bureau, said the company posted pictures online of a still – the apparatus used to make spirits – to mislead shoppers into believing the gin was locally brewed.

“We believe the still had not been used because dust was found on the machine,” Wong said.

“They used this gimmick as their selling point to attract buyers who are in favour of locally made liquor.”

The still was seized along with 1,332 bottles of gin in the office of Hong Kong Distillery, where the two suspects were picked up on Wednesday. Officers believed the site was used as a packaging and distribution centre.

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Wong said the label fakery could be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a HK$500,000 fine.

Customs began investigating the company after receiving a complaint in mid-March.

Last Thursday, officers intercepted a shipment of 1,557 bottles of gin which the company had shipped to the city from New Zealand. They found no labels on the bottles.

Failing to carry a label on a product is in violation of the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, which itself carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a HK$500,000 fine.

After in-depth investigation, customs officers raided the Tsuen Wan office on Wednesday and arrested the company’s director, 40, and his girlfriend, 29. The man holds a New Zealand passport and a Hong Kong identity card.

According to the customs department, the haul, including the still, was worth HK$1.48 million.

Wong said she believed the company had been in operation for six months and some bottles of gin had been sold. Customs officers had collected 157 bottles from the market and the operation was continuing.

She said the company involved did not have any department-issued distillery licence, adding that there were only two companies licensed to make gin in the city.

According to the department, product samples had been sent to government labs to test whether they were harmful.

“Initial examination did not find any harmful substances in the product,” the source said.

As of Thursday afternoon, the two suspects were still being held for questioning and had not been charged.