China smashes hotel fake liquor racket

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BEIJING, Sep 24 (Reuters) Quality supervisors raided a hotel in far west China and made the biggest-ever seizure of fake maotai, the fiery national liquor favoured by Communist Party leaders at state banquets.

Fake liquor is common in China, which has been assailed on all sides over health safety in recent months involving exports ranging from toothpaste, tyres and toys to seafood and drugs.

China executed six people in 1998 for producing and selling liquor tainted with methanol which killed 30 people in one of China's worst poisoning case.

More than 2,500 bottles of fake maotai were found at a hotel in Korla in the predominately Muslim region of Xinjiang, the Beijing News said.

It was the biggest case involving the fake liquor, which can be priced from a few hundred yuan to a staggering 38,000 yuan for an 80-year vintage, the newspaper said.

The fake liquor, sold at 1,680 yuan per bottle, was manufactured in Beijing, it added, but did not say whether anyone had been detained or fallen ill.

Maotai, a pungent drink made from sorghum and grain and measuring 53 per cent alcohol by volume, is steeped in Communist lore.

Maotai's origins can be traced back two millennia, and it became the drink of choice for generations of Communist leaders.

It was used to toast the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949. And Premier Zhou Enlai welcomed US President Richard Nixon with maotai during his groundbreaking trip to China in 1972.

In another health scare, eight types of mooncakes, eaten to celebrate the upcoming Moon Festival, were found to contain excessive bacteria in one of Beijing's biggest chain supermarkets, the Beijing Times said.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Gao Hongbin separately told a news conference on food safety that the government would crack down on the use of banned pesticides and step up monitoring of veterinarian drugs and markets.

REUTERS SZ ND1102

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