The government continues the ban imposed on importing ethanol to the country amidst smuggling of ethanol unabated.

Under this setup, Sri Lanka Customs has intensified surveillance while confiscating the alleged shipments of ethanol that have been brought into the country following the imposition of the ban.

The Customs department recently seized a stock of over 15,000 litres of ethanol imported from China in a recent detection made by its officers.

Sri Lanka Customs is willing to provide the seized stocks of Ethanol imported into the country through illegal channels, for the local production of disinfectants to be used during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of using them to manufacture liquor, the Customs chief said.

Customs Director General (Rtd.) Maj. Gen. Vijitha Ravipriya said that the smuggled stocks of Ethanol seized by them would be provided to state health authorities for the production of disinfectants used to combat the COVID-19 virus, as there is a significant shortage of such chemical raw materials at present.

The top official was addressing the media at an event organised at the Customs Central Cargo Examination Directorate at Grayline II Yard in Thotalanga to display another seized stock of over 15,000 litres of ethanol imported from China.

He pointed out yesterday that the practice was to sell the seized chemicals only to licensed liquor manufacturers through a public auction, in order to generate revenue for the state.

“However, from this point onwards, we are considering the release of these seized stocks and ones that come in the future for the production of disinfectants, as there is a significant shortage in such material. Ethanol is a chief component in alcohol-based virus disinfectants and sanitizers,” DG Ravipriya said.

The government banned the importation of ethanol for the local liquor industry since January this year on the orders of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to strengthen the local sugar cultivator.

“We have already received requests from the Ministry of Health to supply excess stocks of ethanol we seize for the said purpose and are willing to provide them,” the Customs Chief said.

The Risk Management Unit (RMU) of the Customs Central Intelligence Directorate on suspicion searched a 20-foot container which arrived at the Colombo Port on May 25, 2019. The consignment had been fraudulently declared as Nylon 6 dipped tyre cord fabric meant for a renowned company.

Customs Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Directorate Sudath J. de Silva said, though the port of loading has been declared as Shanghai, China, the actual port of origin of the ethanol consignment is suspected to be a Southeast Asian one.

The container consisted of 80 barrels, each containing 190 liters of ethanol worth Rs. 2 million and the total sum of evaded tax revenue was Rs.18 million. “Usually, a Customs Import Tax (CID) with Vat and NBT up to Rs.1,000 is imposed on a litre of ethanol, which could be used to produce two to three 750ml bottles of liquor," he said.

Three suspects from Kandy, including the businessman behind the smuggled contraband who was arrested last year, had been produced in courts in January 2020 and ordered to be remanded.