Polish authorities have confirmed that Czech-made bootleg liquor laced with large amounts of methanol was behind the deaths of three Polish people living close to the common border. The tragedy occurred on Christmas day when three members of a Polish family, mother, son and daughter, drank liquor from a bottle that they’d previously bought in the Czech Republic. The highly publicized scam, in which bootleggers used the deadly methanol in place of ethanol to save money, has claimed 39 lives in the Czech Republic. 70 people have been charged in connection with the case.
Czech retail sales dropped by 1.8 percent year on year in November after a 2.2 percent growth seen in October, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Friday. The fall is ascribed to lower car sales and lower sales of household equipment. Food sales continued to drop both in specialised and non-specialised stores and after thirteen months of continual growth sales of clothing and footwear also dipped slightly. Seasonally adjusted sales decreased by 0.6 percent in real terms against October.
In Business News this week: the Czech public debt reaches a new high; Czechs buy less food, clothes and home appliances; Albania is set to withdraw ČEZ’s licence to operate in the country; up to 40 percent of retailers violate trade regulations during post-Christmas sales; and the popular Czech butter spread will undergo an EU-enforced name change by mid 2013.
Poisoned alcohol has claimed the life of a Czech in the region of Olomouc – the first methanol-related death in the Czech Republic in 2013. The news was revealed by the country’s chief hygiene officer Vladimír Valenta. The man was found dead in his home on 9 January – the 39th fatality related to poisoned alcohol since an initial outbreak of poisoning that began in September of last year after thousands of litres of tainted liquor were smuggled onto the market. The police estimated that roughly 5,000 litres of methanol-spiked alcohol remain in private homes. The country’s health minister has repeatedly warned members of the public not to consume spirits of unknown origin.
The Czech government will make a fresh effort to fight smoking and alcoholism, both of which have long been a serious problem in the country. After several failed attempts, the Health Ministry plans to introduce a general smoking ban in public spaces. In addition, the ministry will also push for a move that would oblige restaurants, bars and pubs to offer at least one non-alcoholic beverage at a lower price than the cheapest alcoholic drink.
Liquor sales are reported to have dropped by 10 percent in the wake of the methanol poisonings. According to the head of the Union of Spirits Producers Petr Pavlik, 2012 was the worst year for Czech spirits producers since 1990. Czechs are not only consuming less spirits in pubs and restaurants, they are also shunning home liquor brands in favour of costlier imported labels and drinking more wine and beer. Vodka sales in particular are significantly lower.
Free testing of alcohol samples, offered by hygiene stations around the country since December 7, has wrapped up. Final statistics are still being compiled by the Health Ministry but spokeswoman Viktorie Plívová qualified the programme as a success which had saved numerous lives. Labs tested samples for the presence of methanol and other poisonous substances. In the region of Moravia-Silesia, which saw 22 of 39 deaths from methanol poisoning in bootleg liquor since mid-September, every tenth sample out of the 1,200 submitted was dangerous. Thirty-three samples contained methyl, the rest isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) the spokeswoman said. The chief hygiene officer Vladimír Valenta has warned Czechs not to consume spirits of unknown origin (ie. without new excise stamps) to try and head-off additional poisoning cases in light of the upcoming New Year celebrations.
At least 10 people have died in Poland in the past few days as a result of methanol poisoning. The police are investigating where the laced alcohol that the victims consumed came from. In some of the cases, there have been speculations that the alcohol may have come from the Czech Republic, where a spate of methanol poisonings in the fall led to the death of over three dozen people. In September, Polish officials banned the import of hard alcohol from the Czech Republic. More than 70 people have been charged in relation to the spiking of alcohol with excessive amounts of methanol in the Czech Republic.
The police have uncovered the biggest storage of bootleg liquor in the country’s history. According to a police statement a raid on a former construction warehouse revealed 1.2 million liters of illegal spirits. The state would have lost 330 million crowns in tax revenues. The police have detained several people for questioning.
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