Booze maker closed, 3 arrested in Vietnam following deaths

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Officials inspect an agency of a Hanoi-based liquor producer in the northern province of Quang Ninh, where six people died after drinking methanol-laced rice wine / PHOTO: THU HANG

A Hanoi liquor producer has been shut down temporarily and its director and two distillers were arrested after some of its products were found to contain toxic methanol that allegedly killed six drinkers last week.

Nguyen Duy Vuong, 46, director of the Hanoi 29 Import Export Joint-stock Company, was taken in along with Tran Xuan Manh, 30, and Dang Van Canh, 36, by police in the northern province of Quang Ninh, where in four separate cases people died after consuming the company's rice wine between December 1 and 7.

Provincial health authorities said samples in two of the four cases contained 2,000 times more methanol than allowed.

Fifteen people were hospitalized sick or unconscious after consuming Ruou nep 29 Ha Noi (Hanoi 29's glutinous rice wine).

Following the findings, authorities seized 6,000 bottles of the liquor, according to the Vietnam Food Administration.

Meanwhile, Hanoi authorities Monday shut down the company and sealed its warehouse.

The city Department of Industry and Trade said they found excessive contents of methanol in Hanoi 29's glutinous rice wine, red wine, and vodka.

Tran Quang Trung, chief of the VFA, said Hanoi 29 makes six alcoholic products, but only one of them had its quality certified, a certification that had expired last April.

The company failed to get its products tested periodically as regulated by law, he said.

The case has provoked public fury.

Vuong Ngoc Tuan, deputy general secretary of the Vietnam Standard and Consumers Association, said it is "odd" that the company could produce and sell its products without approval from authorities.

It shows how "lax" and "ineffective" government management is, he said.

A representative of the Vietnam Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Association told Thanh Nien that alcoholic products are managed by four different agencies: the Department of Planning and Investment which issues their licenses, the Department of Industry and Trade which licenses alcohol production, the Department of Science and Technology which certifies labels, and the Department of Health which is in charge of quality.

Vietnam produces and consumes millions of liters of alcohol every year but authorities only supervise major producers since alcohol quality tests are expensive, he said.

Dr Nguyen Duy Thinh of the School of Biotechnology and Food Technology in Hanoi said the deaths could have been avoided if authorities properly oversee alcohol production and trade. 

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