Life sentences handed out in Czech methanol scandal verdicts

Radomír Koudela, photo: CTK

The highest possible punishments that the state can impose have been handed out in a batch of key verdicts on some of the leading players in the Czech methanol scandal which killed 50 and has left dozens of others maimed for life.

Radomír Koudela,  photo: CTK
In a hushed court, lead judge Radomír Koudela read out life sentences on two of the men accused of being masterminds of the methanol scandal in which hard spirits was mixed with the industrial solvent, fuel, and anti-freeze in a cheap but deadly concoction.

As well as the 20 year sentences on the main mixers Rudolf Fian and Tomáš Křepela, the judge at Zlín’s regional court spent almost an hour on Wednesday reading out the names of the victims and the verdicts and sentences on the other eight co-defendants in what is probably the biggest murder trial ever held in the country.

The main distributor of the deadly cocktail, who later helped police unwind the deadly network, Jiří Vacula, was sentenced to 15 years. Sentences totalling 104 years were distributed between the remaining seven men on the benches for the accused. Given the repercussions of their acts, the raft of sentences could not be regarded as overly strict nor draconian, Koudela said.

Jiří Vacula,  Rudolf Fian,  photo: CTK
The lead judge said nothing other than life sentences were possible for the lead actors in the Czech methanol scandal which broke with the first of nearly 50 deaths for those drinking the contaminated spirits in September 2012. Slovaks and Poles as well as Czechs were among the victims.

Almost 80 people survived drinking the low cost spirits, which were mostly sold locally in Moravia. But many of them have been given their own life sentences in the form of serious damage to their health, including blindness. In panic at the rapidly lengthening death toll, the sale of hard spirits was banned temporarily in the Czech Republic as a new system for making sure only safe, legitimate and taxed supplies would be put on shelves.

The fast evolving scandal uncovered a deeply flawed system Czech system for preventing the sale of bootleg alcohol and ensuring consumer safety by the confusion of state institutions involved.

Fian and Křepela maintained they were innocent throughout the 11-week trail, putting the blame for the deaths and injuries on Vacula. Their defense lawyers have said they will appeal the sentences.

Apart from the progress of those appeals, the methanol scandal is far from a closed affair. The sentences handed out on Wednesday were for the principle accused from the bootleg hub that was the Zlín region. Dozens of the around 70 people charged in the methanol affair will be dealt with by local courts. Two other men accused of being ringleaders in the methanol affair are being judged in an ongoing trial in Olomouc.

Photo: CTK
And while the most recent death from methanol poisoning dates from February this year, there is still a high chance that some of the killer spirits is being stored away somewhere for consumption. Around 2,000 litres of the original production volume of 15,000 litres is still unaccounted for with just three gulps of the tainted spirit estimated to be enough to send you to an early grave.