Guards call time on hooch pipeline

For years, pipelines from the former Soviet Union have shipped the prosaic necessities of oil and gas to western Europe. But now smugglers have developed their own pipeline network for a more potent fuel to keep out the Baltic winter chill—moonshine.

Border guards in Lithuania have unearthed a lengthy pipeline that was intended to ship illicit alcohol from the neighbouring, authoritarian state of Belarus, giving Lithuanians a last cheap and perhaps deadly shot of Soviet-era liquor on the edge of the newly expanded European Union.

Rokas Bukinskas, spokesperson for the Lithuanian border guard, said: “We found it [on Friday]. It is 3km long and goes under a local river, some fields and roads.”

He said they had learned of it through intelligence, but would not go into detail or say how the thin plastic pipeline had been laid.

“We dug it up with our hands”, he said. “The end of it came out in a simple village house.”

The occupants of the house were not involved in the scheme, he said, adding that the pipeline had yet to be used and that they were working with their Belarusian counterparts to establish its source.

He said border guards have unearthed four similar pipelines running from Belarus to Lithuania this year.

“The usual cargo is called spiritas here—it is alcohol for medicine. They mix it with water and sell it in the villages.”

He said there are a number of “health risk factors” associated with the drinks, but added: “Alcohol is two to three times more expensive in Lithuania than in Belarus, mainly due to taxation.”

The price of alcohol has risen sharply since Lithuania joined the EU. The border guards do not know how much is smuggled each year, only how much they catch, he said.

Bootleg distillers proliferated across the former Soviet Union, providing huge quantities of moonshine, or samogon as it is known. But it has come at a cost: it is estimated that tens of thousands of people in Russia alone die of alcohol poisoning every year.—Guardian Unlimited Â

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