Harrods admits ‘mistakenly’ selling expensive Russian vodka

The Knightsbridge-based department store said its Beluga vodka stock has been removed from sale.

17 March 2022

Harrods has insisted it “mistakenly” sold expensive Russia vodka, after it came under fire in Parliament over its approach to sanctions.

The Knightsbridge-based department store said its Beluga vodka stock was removed from sale and held in storage ahead of it being moved off site.

But it acknowledged an “error” occurred in making a sale following an inquiry by a customer, with the store adding that it is adhering to sanctions outlined by the UK Government.

Harrods responded after Labour MP Chris Bryant raised concerns that Russian vodka remains available in some major UK department stores as he accused firms of “not really pulling their weight” in imposing sanctions on Russia.

Chris Bryant
Chris Bryant (Jacob King/PA)

The former minister told the House of Commons that bottles of Beluga vodka are available “underneath the counter” at Harrods while it is “on the shelves” at Selfridges.

He also raised concerns over other companies “still doing business” in Russia.

A Harrods spokeswoman said: “Over a week ago, we removed products 100% sourced from Russia from the shelves of Harrods. This decision was taken alongside other steps such as changing the name of chicken kiev to chicken kyiv in our food hall, and halting deliveries to Russia.

“While Beluga vodka was removed from sale, remaining stock was held in storage ahead of being moved off site.

“After an inquiry by a customer, it was mistakenly brought out of stock and given to the customer. This was an error and should not have happened.

“All remaining stock has now been moved to an off-site location and is not available for sale.”

Exports of high-end luxury goods to Russia have been banned and import tariffs have been raised on hundreds of goods under UK economic sanctions on the country.

The Government this week said Russian vodka would be among goods worth about £900 million to be hit with an extra 35% tariff as it continued to inflict punitive measures in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The export ban is expected to hit Russia’s access to luxury British vehicles, high-end fashion and works of art.

Mr Bryant told the Commons: “Can I ask for a debate on those who are not really pulling their weight in delivering sanctions on Russia over Ukraine?

“Because lots of shops in the UK have now withdrawn Russian products from their shelves, but if you still want to buy a £150 bottle of Beluga vodka, for instance, you just go to Selfridges – it’s on the shelves; if you go to Harrods, you actually have to ask for it and it’s underneath the counter, literally underneath the counter.

“But also there are British companies who are still doing business in Russia, like Subway and Pirelli and Baker Tilly, who provide advice on how to hide your money.

“Isn’t it time that everybody pulled their weight because that’s the only way we can make Putin fail?”

Beluga vodka
Beluga vodka (Alamy/PA)

Commons Leader Mark Spencer said Mr Bryant was right to draw the House’s attention to these matters.

He added: “He’s right that the only way in which we send the strongest message to that regime in Russia is to stick together and hold firm.

“I think he’s right to ask for that debate and I’m sure there’ll be methods – either through an adjournment debate or backbench business – for the House to continue to draw attention to those who are not condemning or issuing those sanctions as they should be.”

A spokesman for Subway said: “Subway has no corporate operations in Russia. There are approximately 450 franchised restaurants in Russia which are all independently owned and operated by local franchisees and managed by an independent master franchisee.

“We don’t directly control these independent franchisees and their restaurants, and have limited insight into their day-to-day operations.

“While we do not control or manage the operations of independent franchisees in Russia, we will redirect any profits from operations in Russia to humanitarian efforts supporting Ukrainians who have been affected by the war. We are also working with our franchisees across Europe to provide meals to refugees.”

Baker Tilly International said it will “separate member firms in Russia and Belarus from our global network”.

In a statement, the company said: “This decision is a direct consequence of the actions of these governments, and not the individuals of these countries.

“Baker Tilly International firms will not serve government clients or state-owned enterprises of Russia or Belarus, or sanctioned entities and individuals.”

It said this process will “take some time” and it remains “focused on the safety and wellbeing of our team members and their families in Ukraine”.

The statement added: “We are mobilising financial and logistical support to ease their suffering, and we are continuing to raise critical funds for organisations providing direct humanitarian aid.”

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