THE Scotch Whisky Association has more than 70 legal cases going “at any one time” against overseas product counterfeiters and paid lawyers £1.5 million last year to pursue culprits, new chief executive David Frost has revealed.
He and SWA officials said the trade body’s legal budget had soared 25 per cent from £1.2m five years ago, and that it was in developed as well as emerging markets where Scotch-copying was rife. Australia was now near “the top of the list” for illicit products “using images of glens and bagpipes”, Frost said.
The SWA launched nearly 30 legal actions over the past five years against the “passing off” of fake Scotch whisky in Australia “from Victoria to Melbourne”. Chinese counterfeiting of Scotch also remained problematic.
Frost, who took over the helm from Gavin Hewitt six weeks ago, said: “Not everything ends up in court. Very often a [fake] product can be taken off the shelf because people know we are serious.”
The SWA’s sharply higher legal bill is part of an overall budget for the organisation of £6m. On the issue of Scottish independence, Frost reiterated that the industry would continue to take no political position ahead of this year’s referendum. But he said he welcomed the greater “clarity” of the debate recently on issues such as whether Scotland could retain the pound and also gain membership of the European Union if there was a “Yes” vote.
The EU president Manuel Jose Barroso irritated the SNP earlier this week by saying it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.
“Every contribution to the debate is helpful,” Frost, a former career diplomat, added. “We have heard what the players in the debate have said. We have listened.”
The SWA boss did say, however, that the European market remained important to the industry’s flourishing exports market.
“The EU is important to our objectives as an industry. Exports to the single market is about one-third of our total exports,” Frost said.