Producer of Methanol-Tainted Wine That Killed 15 Is Charged

The maker of methanol-laced rice wine that killed 15 people and hospitalized dozens more in Kompong Chhnang province has been charged with knowingly distributing toxic substances, officials said on Monday.

Provincial court spokesman Chhuon Siven said that Thann Vy, 48, could face between seven and 15 years behind bars for producing the wine, which hospitalized 78 people after it was served at a series of funerals in the province over the past month.

Mr. Vy “already confessed that he is the one who added the methanol by himself,” Mr. Siven said of the liquid, which is used in antifreeze, solvent and as a fuel source.

A yeast supplier and wine producer were released after questioning, but were still under investigation, according to Mr. Siven.

The courts are also awaiting final results from testing done by the Ministry of Commerce. Health officials said on Monday that their own testing had confirmed fatal doses of methanol.

“When methanol levels in wine are higher than 0.15 percent, it causes people to become poisoned,” said Prak Vun, head of the provincial health department. “The methanol levels that we found from the sample show it was 0.2 percent methanol.”

Police previously said the alcohol was found to contain 25 percent methanol.

E.U. regulations, meanwhile, cap naturally occurring methanol in alcoholic drinks at 0.4 percent in 40 percent ethanol.

Mr. Vun said 10 people remained at the provincial referral hospital, and that health officials had told people in the province to stop drinking rice wine until they conducted tests of other manufacturers.

Deaths from methanol poisonings are a regular occurrence across the developing world, with unscrupulous moonshiners doctoring their brew with chemicals to keep costs low.

A similar “methanol outbreak” occurred in 2011 in Pursat province, where Mat Prey village was so decimated that locals began calling it “phum pol sra,” or “the village poisoned by wine.”

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