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Whisky inquiry widened

The Serious Fraud Office has widened its inquiry into whisky investment schemes to cover companies offering speculators the chance to invest in champagne, port and brandy.

Concern is mounting over the promotion and sale of these drinks to investors. Advertisements lure investors by claiming there will be an acute shortage of mature drink to cope with the world-wide celebrations of the new millennium.

As many as half-a-dozen different firms offering investments in casks of Scotch whisky have been closed down by the DTI in the past few months and up to 25 are being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

The DTI obtained a compulsory winding up order last week against Marshall Wineries, citing doubts about the ownership of whisky held by the bonded warehouse and the number of clients involved.

Many of the firms under investigation have gone into voluntary liquidation, leaving their investors unsure over precisely what they have bought or even whether it actually exists, but they have been replaced by others with equally short life spans.

As many as 10,000 people are thought to have bought casks of whisky, paying up to three or four times the market value of a hogshead of raw whisky containing 54 gallons of spirit. A typical cask would be valued at around pounds 400 but investors have been known to pay pounds 1,200 to pounds 1,700 for a single hogshead.