whisky industry goes after scam whisky
Scotland's whisky industry has gone
to war with a mystery Whisky Tycoon who
claims to represent many of the biggest
brands in world spirits.
Major whisky companies such as Diageo,
Pernod Ricard and William Grants & Sons
are moving to challenge scores of firms
set up in London to mimic their names.
In what politicians say is another
symptom of Britain's lax and widely
abused company registration system, a
single entrepreneur called Tofikuddin
Ovaysi has formed nearly 100 UK shell
businesses cloning brands such as
Balvenie, Macallan, Glenfiddich,
Smirnoff and Bacardi.
Mr Ovaysi, who styles himself as the
"baron of spirits", has also registered
companies that on paper look like real
divisions of Volvo and supermarkets Asda,
Wal-Mart and Carrefour.
Some big brands have already succeeded
in stripping several of Mr Ovaysi's
firms of their cloned names but most
remain live nearly a year after they
were set up.
Owning the real companies he has
mimicked would have made Mr Ovaysi, who
claims to be Russian, one of the richest
people on the planet.
The 33 year old was able to build his
virtual empire with £10 registrations of
96 clone firms at the UK's public
registry, Companies House, using a
mailbox address in London.
Mr Ovaysi did not respond to written
requests for comment at the virtual
office he claimed to use in London or at
a cloned Diageo email he used. Companies
House said it did not check new
The Russian appears to have registered
many of the companies last summer while
living and working in Ukraine where he
was wrongly reported to be the son of
millionaire Vijay Mallya of India's
United Breweries or UB Group, makers of
Mr Ovaysi - in a ceremony described as a
"burlesque show" by local media - last
February opened what was understood to
be the Ukrainian HQ of UB in the
provincial city of Ternopil amid
promises of hundreds of jobs and
millions of dollars in investment.
After judging a local beauty contest,
hosting lavish parties and mixing with
local politicians, Mr Ovaysi quit
Ternopil by September when his Ukrainian
business, called UB Groupe rather than
UB Group, was declared bankrupt.
Mr Ovaysi, while in Ternopil, also used
Britain's Companies House to register a
companies using the UB name, including
United Breweries Group Limited. At the
same time he registered registered more
than 70 internet domains, almost all
featuring the word Diageo, which is
among firms moving against Mr Ovaysi.
A spokeswoman for the world's biggest
whisky maker said: "Diageo are aware of
the company and domain names registered
by Mr Ovaysi and our legal counsel are
working to address this activity."
A spokeswoman for Pernod Ricard's
Paisley-based Chivas Brothers business
said: "While we do not comment on
individual cases, we can confirm we are
aware of this matter. As is often the
case with established global and luxury
brands, people want to copy you. We are
taking action on an on-going basis to
protect our company name and tackle any
abuse of our intellectual property if
and when we find it."
Rosemary Gallagher, Scotch Whisky
Association head of communications,
said: "Scotch Whisky businesses, like
all companies, need to be vigilant to
potentially fraudulent activity. While
this is a responsibility for individual
businesses, part of the SWA’s role is to
uphold the high quality reputation of
the entire Scotch Whisky industry and we
will continue to support our members as
best we can."