Police charge two top distributors of methanol-laced liquor

Roman Kafka, photo: CTK

The police have made a breakthrough in the investigation of methanol poisonings that have claimed 25 lives in the Czech Republic over the past few weeks. Detectives have arrested two men who they suspect of having produced a deadly mix consisting of methanol and other ingredients which they released into an illegal distribution network. The police said the men did not want to kill anyone but rather made a fatal mistake in producing the mix.

Photo: CTK
Three weeks after the first known victim of methanol poisoning died in the north-eastern town of Havířov, the police announced they had caught the men responsible for the outbreak. At a news conference on Monday, police officers and other officials said they had detained a 42-year-old man from Karviná and another man from Zlín. Prosecutor Roman Kafka is in charge of the case.

“In late August and early September, the two men produced a mixture of methanol and alcohol in a very large quantity which they intentionally released into distribution.

“They did so even though they knew that the substance would be mixed with alcohol and further distributed. Given their professional background and the fact that they knew what they were producing, they were aware that other people’s lives and health could be at risk, which indeed happened.”

Roman Kafka,  photo: CTK
Czech TV reported that the man who masterminded the plan was a 42-year-old businessman from Karviná who holds both a Czech and Slovak passport, and who ran a restaurant business in the region. His accomplice, a 37-year-old man from Zlín, owned a firm producing windscreen washer fluid and other car care products.

At the end of August, the men legally purchased 15 tons of methanol. They mixed that with industrial ethanol, thinking this would neutralize the lethal effects of methanol. But they miscalculated the ratio and instead of a coarse and relatively safe beverage, they produced a mix that killed 25 people and poisoned dozens of others.

Prosecutor Roman Kafka said the accomplice suffered a mental breakdown and was fully cooperating with the investigators.

“This person began to cooperate and we have his full confession including the description of what took place, his motivation and the description of the basic distribution network.”

Photo: CTK
The police are now trying to uncover the entire illegal distribution network. According to investigators, some five tones of methanol have not yet been accounted for, which means around 15,000 litres of tainted alcohol is still out there. The police therefore warn people to refrain from drinking any spirits of suspicious origin.

The two men behind the ongoing methanol crisis have been charged with posing a threat to public safety, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years or even an exceptional sentence of life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the Czech government is considering easing the ban on spirits sales although it’s now yet clear how legitimately produced liquor will be distinguished from potentially dangerous spirits that are already on the market.