SHANGHAI: Trouble was brewing in a court in Shanghai yesterday, in a battle
between international whisky brand Chivas and a local newspaper.
Earlier this year International Finance News ran a front-page story quoting
an anonymous Chivas insider as saying that the whisky sold by the brand in China
The insider claimed that despite the 12-year guarantee on the label, each
bottle cost just 25 yuan (US$3) to produce, as it was in fact a blend of
younger, inferior whiskies.
The allegations against the Scottish malt, which retails at around 300 yuan
(US$37) per bottle, prompted Chivas Brothers Ltd and Pernod Ricard (China)
Trading Co Ltd to sue for defamation. The paper then filed a counter-suit.
The case kicked off yesterday in Shanghai Number 1 Intermediate People's
Court, with both sides issuing their opening statements.
Both sides are demanding a full apology, but no financial compensation has
been asked for.
According to the January report in the International Finance News, none of
the 700,000 cases of Chivas whisky shipped to China each year contain a single
bottle of genuine 12-year-old Chivas Regal.
To illustrate the huge profits generated by the whisky, the newspaper also
claimed Pernod Ricard had paid for all its Chinese employees to visit Britain.
In response, at a press conference a few days later, Chivas and Pernod Ricard
branded the report "groundless."
Representing the whisky manufacturer and its trading partner, lawyers Yang
Ming and Peng Xuejun showed the court statements from the European Union, the
Scottish Whisky Association, the British Consulate in Shanghai and British
Customs, confirming that Chivas Regal sold in China is produced and labelled
according to the law.
To display how their clients' brand had been damaged by the newspaper's
claims, they also showed screen shots of online discussions about the whisky.
In a survey on Sina.com.cn conducted after the report, 77 per cent of more
than 40,000 respondents said they would never buy Chivas again.
Attorney for the newspaper Zhang Yi said the report was true, and the whisky
company and its importer had damaged the reputation of the newspaper by
labelling its report irresponsible.
He provided 12 pieces of evidence, including the name card of the anonymous
He reiterated that the source worked for Chivas, but would not say whether he
or she would be testifying in the case.
Attorney Zhang also presented surveys claiming the Chivas Regal sold in China
and Britain smells and tastes different.
"We went to a Shanghai bar with notary officers and talked to about 40
people," he told China Daily.
"More than 20 of the customers who tasted the British and Chinese Chivas said
the Chinese Chivas was not as good as the Chivas from Britain."
A hearing is scheduled on June 23.