The beverage and sports marketing giant Red Bull said on Thursday it was the target of a blackmail attempt by someone who had threatened to contaminate its energy drinks.
The extortionists had threatened to taint beverage cans with faecal matter if they were not paid off. Checks at stores where they said they had put contaminated drinks had found nothing, Austria-based Red Bull said.
“Someone has been trying to blackmail Red Bull for weeks,” Red Bull said in a statement. The company went public with the information in order to neutralise the blackmailers’ leverage, it said.
“We are cooperating closely with police and share the opinion that we are close to the perpetrators and they will be found,” it said, adding that it would make no further comment while the investigation continued.
Police in Salzburg, where Red Bull is based, had no comment.
“We know the facts – the text that Red Bull has published – and cannot say anything more,” a police spokesman said.
Salzburg prosecutors opened an investigation in early March into unknown persons who had demanded ransom by email, the Oesterreich newspaper quoted Red Bull spokesman Marcus Neher as saying.
“So far it is only about a claimed contamination,” Neher added, saying there was no proof that any cans had actually been tampered with and giving no details about ransom demands.
Red Bull’s co-founder, Dieter Mateschitz, has a net worth of $7.1 billion, making him Austria’s richest person and number 162 in the world, according to Forbes magazine. Red Bull sales grew 12 percent in 2011 to $5.6 billion, according to Forbes.
The private company, whose products are especially popular with young people, is known for its elaborate marketing and association with extreme sports.
It scored a coup last year when it sponsored daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking skydive from the edge of space. Its world champion Formula 1 motor racing team opens the season on Sunday.