Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Recent reports in the local media giving details of raids on illegal wine factories across the kingdom have caused controversy and shocked conservative Saudi society were alcohol is banned.
A number of government departments took part in the crackdown, including the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, with others providing general assistance.
On Tuesday, a residential home in the al Rabwa neighborhood, east of the capital, was broken-into and a complete alcohol-producing factory was uncovered along with 15 thousand Saudi riyals (4000 USD) worth of goods ready to be distributed across the Kingdom. The house had been rented by a Saudi national in charge of the marketing side with a number of workers, originally from Africa, overseeing the production.
Further searches of the property provided details of how large quantities of wine were being produced, using heavy machinery to process the grapes, rat carcasses to accelerate the fermentation process, as well as sewage water and a several banned chemicals.
Similar equipment was discovered at raided properties elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, none of which followed basic rules of hygiene as they sought to maximize profits with no regards to health and safety.
A two-liter bottle of beer can cost as much as 250 Saudi riyals (67 USD) with some producers offering discounts for large orders.
On average, the number of barrels used to ferment grapes in each of the twenty illegal factories discovered by the police was 50, holding 500 liters, the price of which was 3.75 million Saudi riyals (999,893 USD),usually sold within a two months period. A single factory could therefore generate 22.5 million riyals every year.
Wine bottles, smuggled into the Kingdom and sold on the black market, cost 700 Saudi riyals (187 USD) and are sometimes laden with chemicals to increase alcohol content and volume.
Distribution occurs mainly on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when agents deliver their shipments to consumers, in areas designed to evade supervision, usually through trusted intermediaries. Wine merchants conduct their affairs with extreme caution fearing a trap by the moral police.
An official involved in the latest raid told Asharq al Awsat wine factories were, for the most part, uncovered with the help of individuals previously involved in the trade, who regretted participating in illegal activities and cooperated with the authorities.
The Riyadh Health Center, responsible for promoting awareness of the dangers of locally- produced wine, said drinking could cause kidney failure and damage the liver due to harmful chemicals.
Ongoing investigations with individuals arrested for their involvement in producing or selling alcoholic beverages, revealed most of them were non- Saudis who had learned the necessary skills before traveling to the Kingdom and teaching locals.
Most of those arrested said economic gain was the main motive behind their actions since they could obtain large sums of money in a limited period.
Saudi society continues to refuse to admit alcohol use is rife in the country, with the authorities arguing that those who engage in the illegal activity aim to spread evil without realizing that large amounts of alcoholic drinks are due to local demands.