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CAVSF busts illicit liquor den in Gin Oya

Submerged barrels in the Gin Oya.

The ten-kilometre stretch of land from the Thoppuwa bridge to the estuary where the Deduru Oya meets the Indian ocean had been a haven for illicit liquor manufacturers for a considerable period. It is an inhospitable jungle terrain and few outsiders encroach into the territory for fear of underworld gangs and illicit hooch manufacturers.

This remote sanctuary has attracted illicit hooch manufacturers due to the presence of canals, waterways and tributaries, that facilitates the liquor distillation process. Public-spirited citizens informed IGP Mahinda Balasuriya about the presence of a large illicit distillery in the Gin Oya basin in the Wennappuwa area. Although the illicit distillery had been raided before and heavy fines imposed on the offenders the illicit operation continued. The thriving illicit liquor manufacturing business was allegedly financed and carried out by three millionaire businessmen in the Wennappuwa area.

The men owned a fleet of passenger buses and luxury tourist coaches, police told the Sunday Observer . When this was brought to the notice of the Central Anti Vice Striking Force (CAVSF) a surveillance team was rushed to Wennappuwa.

Last week OIC Central Anti Vice Striking Force (CAVSF) Inspector Duminda Balasuriya despatched four police teams comprising four Sub Inspectors, eight police sergeants and 16 police constables to Wennappuwa to raid the distillery.

The policemen were instructed to conduct raids in the wee hours of the morning on identified places. Before dawn two police teams trudged along the Bolawatte-Kammala area towards the left bank of the Gin Oya. Two other police teams walked towards the right bank of the Gin Oya. However, due to incessant rain the previous night the water level at the Gin Oya had risen steadily inundating the land on either side of its banks. The policemen used two motor boats and two rowing boats to get across the river to arrive at Gurugewatte where the distillery was located.

Master brewer

The CAVSF team that raided the illicit hooch dens.

When they arrived at the distillery a man was getting ready to distil Unlawfully Manufactured Liquor (UML) commonly known as Goda . Police described the 65-year-old suspect as a master brewer and a notorious illicit hooch dealer who had been in the trade for many decades. The suspect was the father of a wealthy businessman who owned a fleet of buses, cars and luxury tourist coaches in the Wennappuwa area.

The suspect was taken into custody. Policemen seized the Goda in the 25 barrels which contained 50,250 grams matured for distillation.

Following the discovery of Goda , CAVSF men proceeded in the direction of the Thoppuwa bridge which was about 500 metres away from the spot where they stood. When they arrived at the distillery they saw a man leaping into the Gin Oya and swimming across the river. Police, however, identified him as a notorious hooch dealer with previous convictions. He had been arrested on previous occasions for distilling illicit hooch. The suspect too was a wealthy businessman who owned several houses in the area. He also owned 20 passenger buses that ply between Colombo and Chilaw.

He also owned several lorries, cars and a fleet of buses. More than 50 persons were employed by him at his illicit distillery.

Third distillery located

While searching the area police found the third distillery near the Gin Oya estuary behind a tourist hotel. They also found 40 barrels that contained 78,800 grams of Goda . "While the raid was being conducted three suspects whom the police identified escaped in boats through a sea route. "We will take steps to file action in courts against these suspects. The suspects also owned three luxury tourist buses worth several millions of rupees, " police said. The illicit barrels of liquor and equipment seized by the CAVSF were handed over to the Wennappuwa police to be produced in court.

CAVSF men retrieving the Goda barrels from the Gin Oya.

Police said that around 2,000 bottles of illicitly manufactured liquor are being transported to Colombo and its suburbs daily in luxury coaches.

A few months ago the CAVSF raided a distillery at Othe-Kelle, Korala-Eliya and seized Goda and distilled spirits valued at over Rs. 25 lakhs. The Goda was in 405 barrels; each containing 45 gallons. Police also seized 1,170 bottles of distilled spirits worth over Rs. 22 lakhs. Three persons were taken into custody following the raid. A wealthy businessman who owned the distillery had employed five men for the task.

They were paid Rs. 2,500-3,000 per day for distilling kasippu and burying the barrels in muddy fields until it fermented. The men also had to retrieve the barrels for distillation.

The distilled spirits was packed in polythene bags and then transported to Colombo, Kandy, Kalutara and Anuradhapura in luxury vehicles.

Around 10,000 litres of kasippu were manufactured at the Othe-kelle distilleries daily, police said. "A chauffeur is paid around Rs. 5,000 a day to transport the illicit liquor".

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