Proprietor of The Front Room in Tuam, Co. Galway, Aiden Cummins told the
Sunday World this week he wanted it to be known: "I didn't know the vodka was counterfeit and I would never knowingly put the health of a customer at risk."
We called to Cummins's pub after he appeared in court on five charges brought against him by the HSE. The case arose out of a complaint from a customer that he had drunk vodka at the pub and gotten ill.
Judge James Faughnan ordered Cummins to pay €5,000 in costs to the HSE, and €10,200 in costs relating to the storage of more than 1,000 alcoholic products seized from the pub.
Speaking with the
Sunday World this week, Mr Cummins said the case has been hanging over him since 2018 and, between it and Covid, he had at one stage considered shutting down the pub.
"I didn't find out that someone had gotten ill until we got disclosure and it was in that," he said. "I had never gotten any feedback like that myself.
"It was just the one person who made the complaint, but I suppose that's irrelevant really. I just want to make it clear I never had any idea that this alcohol was counterfeit."
Cummins said he had been contacted by an off-licence employee who had offered to sell litre bottles of vodka at a promotional price of €20 a bottle.
"I bought it in good faith, but the onus was on me to ensure the alcohol had full traceability to the original supplier.
"Basically, what happened was that we were contacted to see if we were interested in buying the vodka at a promotional price. And the judge even saw that text message.
"But I was unaware the vodka was coming from a lorry driver who was going over and back to France. I just assumed the alcohol was kosher. "
Cummins said at one stage, he was considering whether to continue with the business.
"We have been in here 10 years and we have 11 staff employed in the bar, and in the kitchen there are another five or six.
"So, it is really disappointing. The customers have been very supportive, but I suppose to strangers it's very off putting.
"To be honest, before this I had never even heard about counterfeit vodka. The judge did say to me that I must have known this was too good to be true.
"But I honestly didn't. It worked out at €20 a bottle and you see offers like that in the supermarket all the time. It's not like it was a fiver a bottle.
"It was in the price range that it was good value, but it wasn't anything that would make you think it was suspicious."
Voicing a warning to other publicans, Cummins said: "I would say to other publicans to be wary about the origin of where their supplies come from.
"Don't think you're going to get it in a bottle with a black label or a skull and cross-bones. It's going to look exactly as it should."
At Tuam District Court, Seamus Mitchell, a Senior Environmental Health Officer, gave evidence of having first called to the Front Room on February 6, 2019, with two colleagues on foot of a complaint that customers who had drunk vodka at the premises had gotten ill.
Mr Mitchell told the court he entered a storeroom on the premises where he observed a table with bottles of Smirnoff Red Label vodka on it. Some bottles were opened, and some had the caps still on.
"We tested the bottles that were there, and we had a huge suspicion over a lot of the stock," he said.
"There were no receipts for the bottles and no trail of traceability."
Mr Mitchell told the court samples were taken from six Smirnoff Red Label vodka bottles in the bar area of the premises.
Four of the six bottles were shown to be counterfeit after testing.
Mr Mitchell said on another occasion he called to the bar in February of 2019 a total of 1,083 alcoholic products ranging from gin to whiskey were surrendered by Cummins and taken to a storage unit in Galway.
Mr Mitchell said 18 samples sourced from bottles taken out of the pub were tested. Of these samples 14 were counterfeit.
"The consequences for people who consume counterfeit alcohol can be very very severe...There have been reports of deaths in Ireland, and blindness in other cases," he said.
Judge Faughnan ordered a probation report to see if community service was a suitable way of dealing with the case.