Thu, Apr 12, 2018 - Page 6 News List

More than 100 Indonesians die from toxic liquor


Indonesian Deputy National Police Chief Muhammad Syafruddin, center, checks huge quantities of suspect confiscated alcohol at a press conference in Jakarta yesterday.

Photo: AP

Deaths from drinking toxic bootleg alcohol in Indonesia have spiraled past 100 this month, police said yesterday, as they vowed a “scorched earth” crackdown on the makers and distributors of black-market liquor.

Indonesian Deputy National Police Chief Muhammad Syafruddin said the deaths have been concentrated in populous West Java and the capital, Jakarta, but there were also cases in South Kalimantan and other regions that bring fatalities to more than 100.

Indonesian TV has broadcast images of distraught relatives in several cities and lines of gurneys bearing dead bodies in hospital hallways, as the death toll relentlessly climbed since late last week.

There were 31 deaths in Jakarta and satellite cities at the beginning of the month followed by a dramatic surge in deaths in West Java, and hospitalizations of dozens of people suffering nausea, blurry vision and loss of consciousness.

“This is a crazy phenomenon,” Syafruddin said, standing in front of seven handcuffed suspects at a press conference.

“If we let it continue, it will harm the nation,” he said.

“I have ordered all the police chiefs in Indonesia to make these cases stop, zero victims, meaning to reveal the roots ranging from the producers, distributors, sellers to those who have the idea of mixing alcohol with fatal chemicals,” Syafruddin said.

Police displayed huge quantities of suspect confiscated alcohol at their news conference, some of it in the small clear plastic bags it is sold in for about 25,000 rupiah (US$1.80), as well as professionally labeled bottles purporting to be whiskey or wine.

Syafruddin said production of illegal alcohol must be eradicated completely and called for the cooperation of government agencies.

It is unclear how effective the crackdown will be.

Curbs on sales of legal alcohol in Muslim-majority Indonesia, including a ban implemented in 2015 on sales from tens of thousands of convenience stores, have created a significant black market for bootleg liquor among the nation’s poor.

“If what is needed is limited in the legal market because of [government] policies, then the need would be fulfilled by those who want to make a profit” from the black market, said Sugianto Tandra, a researcher at the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies.

“The current incidence of rampant bootleg alcohol is because there is a need to drink, but the product is not available in the legal market,” he said.

Potentially lethal methanol can be a byproduct of bootleg distilling and the tainted alcohol is also sometimes mixed with soft drinks. In the recent spate of deaths, police said pure alcohol was sometimes combined with ingredients such as cough mixture and insect repellent.

Syafruddin said laboratory testing of black-market alcohol sized by police in several raids in Jakarta showed it contained methanol.

Deaths from toxic alcohol are common in Indonesia and foreigners are occasionally among the victims.

Some governments warn travelers to the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok to be cautious about consuming local spirits and alcoholic beverages.

However, the latest cluster of fatalities is extreme, leading to speculation that a single large distributor was responsible.

West Java police, who have arrested seven people suspected of mixing or selling tainted alcohol, said they have not found evidence to support that.

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