Jan Becher, the country’s third largest spirits maker, on Sunday began producing a “prohibition version” of its Lemond liqueur. The new variety contains 19 percent alcohol which means it is not be covered by the government’s ban on sales of spirits with 20 or more percent of alcohol. The company’s production manager said the citrus-flavoured beverage should be available in most supermarkets on Tuesday. The government-imposed ban on the sales of hard liquor is widely expected to be at least partially lifted next week.
The police have uncovered the entire distribution network of
methanol-laced bootleg liquor, the head of Czech police, Martin
Červíček, told Czech TV on Sunday. The police chief said investigators
were now only following one version of what happened but shared no further
details as it might interfere with ongoing investigation, he said. The
police are planning to release more information at a new conference on
The methanol crisis has killed 24 people in the Czech Republic over the last several weeks. The police have charged 41 people in connection with methanol poisonings, 17 of whom remain in custody. A breakthrough in the investigation came on Thursday when detectives discovered some 6,000 litres of suspicious liquid in a warehouse in Opava.
The ongoing Czech methanol crisis has claimed its 24th victim when a 57-year-old woman died in the north-eastern town of Havířov on Friday night after two weeks in hospital. Doctors said the woman fell into a coma shortly after she was admitted to hospital on September 6. Another three patients with methanol intoxication remain in hospital in Havířov, one in critical condition.
Czech health workers have registered two new cases of methanol poisoning. An elderly woman was hospitalized in the early hours of Saturday with severe methanol intoxication in Kroměříž in east of the country; her condition is reported as stable. A man was also admitted to hospital in Čáslav, in central Bohemia but the levels of methanol in his blood were lower than toxic, Czech Radio reported. More than 30 people remain in hospitals in connection with the methanol crisis that has claimed 23 victims in the country so far.
Russia on Friday became the third country – after Poland and Slovakia – which banned imports of Czech spirits. The move came a day after the Czech government halted all exports of Czech-made and Czech-bottled beverages with higher than 20 percent volume of alcohol. The Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s chief hygiene officer, Gennady Onischenko, as saying that in their experience, whenever goods are banned in Europe, they inevitably find their way to Russia.
The Czech police say they have tracked down the top of the distribution network of methanol-laced bootleg liquor. The head of a special police team investigating illegal alcohol producers, Václav Kučera, said on Friday the core of the network was located in the Zlín region in the eastern Czech Republic, with some of the main distributors operating in the Moravian-Silesian region which was worst affected by methanol poisonings.
The European Commission on Friday welcomed the government-imposed ban on exports of spirits with higher than 20 percent volume of alcohol made in response to the methanol crisis. The Czech Health Ministry issued the immediate ban on Thursday night under pressure from the commission which threatened to impose their own ban that could last for up to two months, arguing consumers in other EU countries have the right to the same level of protection against methanol-laced spirits as those in the Czech Republic. Future lifting of the ban will however have to be consulted with the European Commission, a spokesman for the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy said.
Czech spirits producers have come up with their own suggestions on how to end the state-imposed prohibition of hard liquor. At a news conference on Friday, members of the Union of Spirits Producers and Importers said the authorities should ban sales of spirits by firms in whose products dangerous levels of methanol were found while lifting the ban for products with certified origin. Products whose origin cannot be identified should also be pulled off the market. The producers also suggest that a coordination body should be established to oversee the regulation of the market.
In related news, the police discovered some 6,000 litres of suspicious liquid in a warehouse complex in the north-eastern city of Opava on Thursday. The authorities are now waiting for the results of tests to confirm whether the liquid was used in the production of bootleg liquor. The warehouse is used by a firm from Ostrava which deals, among other things, in windshield washer fluids that contains anti-freeze. No connection between the firm and the production of bootleg liquor has been established so far, the police said. Twenty-three people have been arrested to date in connection with the methanol crisis.
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