Bootlegging 'still an open market' despite police crackdown

Although Dubai police report a decrease in drink-related crime, alcohol - both legal and illegal - is still east to obtain, according to a labour camp manager.

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DUBAI // Although Dubai police have reported a decrease in alcohol-related crime this year, alcohol - both legal and illegal - is still easy to obtain, according to a labour camp manager. Sashi Kumar, camp manager for the Reyami Group, said he has heard of "doctored" alcohol with poisonous additives making its way to labourers' hands. But mostly, he said, workers are obtaining alcohol from the boots of cars in industrial areas and near labour camps.

"They are selling it in open areas like in Al Quoz," Mr Kumar said. "They are selling it out of the backs of cars." The most popular drink, he added, was branded whisky. "They are the same labels as those sold in the licensed shops, but they are selling it though illegal shops like in labour camps, with no security or control," he said. "Maybe they are not getting any proper source, so that is why they are taking this illegal alcohol."

He urged education about the dangers of overconsumption. Indeed, Dubai Municipality said nearly 500 bottles of whisky and beer were confiscated in 2009 from labour accommodations in Al Quoz, Jebel Ali and Sonapur. And this week, two Syrian brothers were accused of attacking a police officer as he attempted to arrest them on charges that they planned to smuggle thousands of bottles of alcohol into Saudi Arabia. In a separate case, a Malian man was charged with operating an illegal alcohol shop out of an apartment; police said they seized nearly 1,500 bottles and cans of beer and more than 100 bottles of spirits.

Dubai courts were told this summer that the illegal-trade problem came to a head last year in Dubai, when three rival bootleggers were killed in turf war. Dubai police intensified efforts to curb the illegal trade, breaking up a crime syndicate in the wake of the killings. According to Lt Col Abdul Qader al Bannai, overall crime dropped by 45 per cent in Jebil Ali after that. In 2008, Jebel Ali Police made 889 arrests, according to Lt Col al Bannai, the head of Jebel Ali police station. The station stepped up its efforts and recorded 1,486 arrests in 2009, many of which involved bootlegged alcohol. Detailed statistics for this year were not available.

Police identified the men arrested in 2009 as the "strongest" gang in the area. The court was told last month that members of that gang attacked a rival with swords, machetes, pipes and wooden blocks, then buried him in a shallow grave. The alleged gang members are already on trial in connection with the rape, torture and murder of two other individuals. Investigators said fierce competition in sales between bootleggers in the area led to to the violence.

After the arrests, a series of inspections was conducted by the police, immigration, and municipal authorities, as well as private security companies, to combat the alcohol trade, especially in Al Quoz, Jebel Ali and Sonapur.