A 42-YEAR old Slovak man has been accused of knowingly mixing the deadly methanol cocktail that has killed 26 Czechs and resulted in a ban on the sale of Czech spirits with alcohol content of over 20 percent in Slovakia. The Czech police reported on September 24 that investigators had tracked down the source of the methanol.
“We know how the poisonous methanol made it to the Czech market and where it comes from; we know who mixed this liquid and who provided the materials,” said Police President Martin Červíček, as quoted by Czech news website iDnes.cz.
“We assume that there is as much as 15,000 litres of this harmful alcohol in circulation,” said Červíček.
While the police remained tight-lipped regarding the names of the suspects, the public service Czech Television reported that Rudolf Fian, a Slovak businessman active in the restaurant industry, and Tomáš Křepela, a Czech who owns the firm Carlogic, are the suspects, according to iDnes.cz.
Křepela and Fian, who do not have criminal records in Slovakia, do not own any property here and do not appear on the commercial register, were drowning in debt Sme quoted a police officer close to the investigation as saying. He added that they were not well-established on the illegal market, but rather “took on something that exceeded their abilities”. They now face 20 years in prison.
Roman Kafka, the Czech official overseeing the investigation, said that the suspects will be prosecuted for the crime of posing a public threat. He also added that the Slovak suspect is in a very bad mental state.
The Czech-origin spirit landed four Slovaks from Prešov in hospital earlier this month. Their poisoning by methanol-laced slivovica, as Slovaks call plum brandy, resulted in a complete ban on imports of all Czech-origin spirits containing more than 20 percent alcohol.
It also evoked a fiery response from food chambers in Slovakia, which supported the ban. The Association of Trade and Tourism in Slovakia (ZOCR), which represents the interests of the most important alcohol importers in Slovakia, described worries over the penetration of methanol-treated alcohol through products made by reputable Czech producers distributed in consumer packaging, i.e. glass bottles with proper customs labels and inspection seals, as “exaggerated and superfluous”.
Now, in response to the results of the Czech Police, the ZOCR is calling on Agriculture Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek to meet them and discuss the situation around the methanol drama, suggesting that Slovakia imported only safe alcoholic beverages made by credible producers.
They also argue that it turned out that the methanol-laced alcohol was a failing of individuals and the culprits were not from the circles of alcohol producers or distributors.
“The methanol case is entirely a problem of the illegal market with alcohol and it is an intentional criminal act by individuals,” said Roman Pócs of ZOCR, as quoted by SITA newswire.
The methanol story
The first cases of methanol poisoning occurred in the Czech Republic in late August and early September. Slovakia’s first recorded incident occurred on September 16, with eight people treated at a hospital in Prešov, of whom four were found to be suffering from methanol poisoning. The conditions of all the Slovak patients subsequently stabilised or improved.
The Health Ministry, as well as the Public Health Authority called on citizens not to drink uncertified alcohol or alcohol bought via the internet while the health supervision authority established special emergency lines for people to call if necessary, TASR reported.
“We are protecting citizens from their own irresponsibility,” Jahnátek said, explaining the ban, as quoted by the Sme daily.