Chinese liquor-swapping syndicate makes fortune stealing and selling restaurant customers’ luxury bottles of alcohol

Employees at a restaurant in northern China have been making a fortune on the side by stealing their customers’ luxury Chinese liquor and replacing their bottles with counterfeit ones.

Police arrested 21 people involved in the liquor-swapping syndicate in Zhengzhou, Henan province, last Tuesday, the Zhengzhou Evening News reported.

The waiters and waitresses made more than 600,000 yuan (HK$696,000) in just two months from swapping their customers’ expensive Kweichow Moutai spirits with cheap, fake liquor, according to the report.

They resold the stolen Chinese liquor at local restaurants across the city, and three of the suspects made enough from their illicit business to pay in full for new cars and flats, the report said.

At about 1,000 yuan a bottle, the high-end Chinese spirit known as mao-tai is popular among Chinese elites and is often presented to their friends and associates as gifts. Beijing banned the luxury liquor from its official banquets when it started its austerity campaign in 2012.

A waitress, who wanted to be identified only by her surname Zhao, told police that the restaurant workers would offer to take the liquor bottles from customers when they arrived, and swap them with fake ones later.

Zhao said the workers would sometimes serve the genuine drink first before replacing their bottles with fake liquor after the customers grew tipsy.

The restaurant owner reported the matter to police after receiving complaints from customers and discovering that his own bottles in storage had been replaced.