Iran booze smuggling is big business

Tehran - Authorities catch only about a quarter of the $730m worth of alcoholic drinks smuggled annually into Iran, where liquor is banned under Islamic law, a newspaper reported on Monday.

"Every year $730m worth of alcoholic drinks enter Iran, but only $200m worth are discovered," the Khabar newspaper quoted the anti-smuggling bureau's secretary Hassan Vanaei as saying.

Liquor production and consumption have been strictly prohibited in the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution and violations are punishable by jail terms or lashes.

But this has not stopped production of home-made booze, or smuggled liquor from neighbouring countries. Local media often report deaths from contaminated alcohol.

Moonshine killed three people in September last year, 10 in March 2009 and four in November of the previous year, according to media reports.

In April 2007, 10 people died from home-made liquor in the holy city of Qom, the clerical nerve centre of Shi'ite Islam and home to many religious seminaries south of Tehran.

Recognised Christian minorities, such as Armenians, are discreetly allowed to produce and consume alcohol in order not to offend Islamic sensibilities.

Home-made spirits, which sell for much less than smuggled foreign brands, are largely consumed in poorer neighbourhoods.

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