A WHOLESALER in China who sold fake Scotch whisky has been jailed for four years after becoming the first person in the country found guilty of misusing the protected trademark.

Li Cuihong was also fined £50,000 by Chinese authorities who found her selling a range of fake alcoholic drinks in the western town of Urumqi.

The 1400 bottles bearing the words "Scotch whisky" on sale turned out to be made of unaged Chinese spirits containing artificial flavouring.

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While not challenging most of the facts of the case, the defendant's lawyer argued the batch of fakes should be disregarded by the judge when passing sentence and claimed they did not resemble any international whisky brand.

Prosecuting lawyers said fake spirits "cause enormous damage to the trademark owners and consumers" and drew attention to Li Cuihong's previous prison sentences for selling illegal alcohol.

The wholesaler's sentence marks the first successful prosecution over the use of the term "Scotch whisky" in China, though previous convictions have been handed out for the misuse of trademarks.

Legal protection for Scotch dates back to 1933, when a definition was enshrined in UK law. A dedicated Scotch Whisky Act went on the statute books in 1998 and new Scotch Whisky Regulations were established in 2009.

Over the years the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has taken legal action against more than 1000 brands and opposed nearly 3000 trademarks worldwide.

The SWA praised the Chinese authorities for pursuing the misuse of the trademark.

Lindesay Low, the SWA legal adviser responsible for China, said: "China is a growing market for Scotch whisky. Unfortunately, its popularity also makes the production and sale of fake Scotch Whisky a lucrative pursuit.

"The Chinese authorities are very supportive in the fight against fakes and this case shows they are willing to crack down on those involved. It is the first time the Scotch whisky collective trademark has been used to secure a criminal conviction.

"This conviction of someone selling fake Scotch whisky should be an example to others involved in this dangerous business which is damaging for both consumers and the legitimate drinks industry.

"It is further evidence of the successful work being done in co-operation with the Chinese authorities to protect the reputation of Scotch whisky."

In 2011, £66 million worth of Scotch whisky was shipped from the UK to China, while the total value of the spirit going into the country is estimated at more than £100 million.

An SWA spokesman said she hoped the case would trigger more convictions: "It is not very common at all. I think we have had one conviction in Spain.

"We think there will be more of this to come as people crack down on misuse."