Excise seizes illegally stored liquor from French café owner | Sunday Observer

Excise seizes illegally stored liquor from French café owner

The hospitality sector has been rocked by the Excise Department’s raid last Wednesday (6) afternoon of the Colombo-7 residence of a French restaurateur, and the seizure of several hundred bottles of foreign alcoholic beverages alleged to have been illegally stored there.Further investigations have revealed that the restaurateur, Jean-Charles Toussaint, had been deported from Sri Lanka two years ago for violating immigration laws.

Meanwhile, Excise inspectors and other law enforcement officers are continuing their investigations into Toussaint and Café Francais to determine the source of the impounded liquor and discern whether other criminal offenses had been committed under the Excise Ordinance, Immigrants and Emigrants Act or other criminal laws.

Officer in Charge of the Colombo City Excise Office Chanaka Nanayakkara said the raid was set in motion upon the Colombo City Excise Office receiving, on Wednesday (6) afternoon, a written complaint about a large quantity of foreign liquor being stored at a house on Sarana Road, behind the BMICH compound in Cinnamon Gardens. The Excise Ordinance criminalises the storage of large quantities of “excisable articles”, including alcoholic beverages, anywhere in Sri Lanka without a valid liquor license for the premises.

Senior Excise officials immediately assembled a team of inspectors and guards to visit the Sarana Road address. When the Excise team arrived at the residence, the only occupant they found was one Dilan Tharindu Weerasekara, who is employed as a General Manager at the Café Francais restaurant on Park Street in Slave Island.

Weerasekara had not allowed the Excise officers to enter the house and search the premises. The resident of the house, French national and Managing Director of Café Francais Jean-Charles Toussaint, arrived on the scene and began berating the Excise officials in English, according to a law enforcement officer present during the incident. The Excise officers informed OIC Chanaka Nanayakkara, who personally visited the scene, explained to Toussaint the legal consequences of obstructing the officers in the course of their lawful duty, and gained access to the premises.

When the Excise officers searched the house, they discovered commercial quantities of vodka, brandy, whiskey and wine, in several hundred bottles, valued at over Rs 2 million. “These were not collectibles. They were boxed and stored in a room of the house, which also contained an unlicensed bar,” an Excise officer told Sunday Observer.

Three years ago, Café Francais obtained an “FL11” Restaurant license from the Excise Department, which permitted the storage and sale of alcoholic beverages at the Park Street premises of the restaurant. That license does not permit the transport of liquor or its storage at the Sarana Road residence, which is near several schools and places of public religious worship. “The law is meant to keep children safe from being near such large quantities of alcohol,” an official said.

The Excise officials were unable, on the spot, to determine the source of the consignment of liquor. Based on a reasonable suspicion that offences had taken place under the Excise Ordinance, the officers arrested Weerasekara, who was the sole occupant of the house at the time of the raid.

The officers inventorised and impounded the hundreds of bottles of alcohol found at the house and produced them with Weerasekara before the Maligakanda Magistrates Court on Thursday (7).

When produced in Court, the suspect pleaded not-guilty to charges of illegal possession and storage of foreign liquor. The magistrate enlarged Weerasekara on personal bail and fixed the next hearing of the case for February 28.

Investigators have discovered that Toussaint first came to Sri Lanka in 2014 on a tourist visa and incorporated the restaurant’s holding company ‘Food & Sens Ceylon (Private) Limited’ with three partners who were also French citizens. Toussaint had abused the conditions of his tourist visa by operating a business without obtaining the necessary government approvals and visa endorsements. In 2017, Immigration officials investigated Toussaint, cancelled his tourist visa and deported him from Sri Lanka, an official said.

Thereafter, from France, Toussaint had applied for and received a Sri Lankan residence visa and returned to the country to lawfully continue the operations of Café Francais, according to a law enforcement officer familiar with the investigations.

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