11 wine sellers questioned over five deaths in Kampot

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Some of the wine sellers who were held for questioning over the five deaths in Kampot province. CCF

Kampot provincial police are questioning 11 sellers of rice and herbal wine for allegedly selling tainted wine which resulted in five deaths in Chhouk district’s Doun Yay commune. Two of the suspects have already been sent to court.

Commune police chief Sin Keun told The Post on July 28 that five men died and three others were hospitalised for suspected rice and herbal wine poisoning after consumption that began on July 26.

“The incident occurred after villagers attended a funeral on the evening of July 25 where people drank rice and herbal wine. They then suffered headaches, nausea and breathing difficulties and some died after being admitted to Chhouk district referral hospital,” Keun said.

District governor Khieu Rithy Phaon said the victims were tested for Covid-19 and the results came back negative.

Citing their relatives, the governor said people felt ill after drinking alcohol at the funeral.

Authorities have collected samples of wine from the village to test for poisonous substances.

Provincial deputy police chief Lok Nhav told The Post on July 28 that two wine sellers were sent to court after they confessed to selling the wine to the victims.

The suspects told police during questioning that they bought wine to produce a herbal variety by adding many ingredients, but they did not know the source of the wine.

Another nine wine sellers were allowed to return home after signing a letter agreeing to stop trading wine without authorisation.

“At this time, our team is preparing to summon two other wine producers from Doun Yay village to clarify whether wine was produced illegally,” Nhav said.

Soth Naroeurn, head of the provincial branch of the Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Repression (CCF), told The Post on July 28 that a working group had investigated places where it was suspected wine had been mixed with high levels of methanol for sale.

He said the manufacturers of the tainted wine had fled. His team found their production methods to be substandard, lacked hygiene and without a permit from relevant authorities.

“We found a lot of wine at the locations and temporarily confiscated it. We took samples to test at a laboratory in Phnom Penh,” he said, adding that a total of 11 wine samples were collected in the commune.

If it is confirmed that the deaths were caused by wine poisoning, this will be the third case in Kampot province since May when tainted wine killed nine people in neighbouring Kampong Trach district, followed by a second case when four people died in the district.

The provincial administration has since prohibited the purchase and sale of rice wine and traditional medicinal alcohol across the province.