Retailers could be liable for unpaid duty on any alcohol they have handled, even if they believed the stock was legitimate when they purchased it, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) has warned.

New powers enable Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to confiscate stock where they suspect duty hasn't been paid, and both fine and reclaim the missing duty from the distributor. If the distributor is unable to pay, HMRC can pursue anyone else in the supply chain, including retail customers.

The new powers extend to any products sold since April 2010, not just the stock currently on retailers' premises.

Although retailers do have the right of appeal in the case of seizure, the duty needs to be paid before an appeal is considered.

FWD chief executive James Bielby said that cheap prices offered by previously unheard-of distributors should arouse retailers' suspicion. "FWD member wholesalers buy on a massive scale. There is no way that an independent operator would be able to get access to cheaper prices than these organisations' without being involved in fraud," he said.