Group blames alcohol poisoning deaths on tax increase, weak enforcement

Kenneth Tee
The Malaysian Liquor Manufacture and Bottler Association said the alcohol products consumed by the victims were most likely fake.— Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — Malaysia’s high tax rate, weak enforcement and strong demand for affordable alcohol products led to the suspected alcohol poisoning tragedy which left several people dead and hospitalised, an association claimed today.

The Malaysian Liquor Manufacture and Bottler Association said it had cautioned the Finance Ministry against the thriving black market for alcohol products for several years due to the country’s high tax rate but its complaints fell on deaf ears.

“Despite our strong objections and concerns, the ministry increased taxes on various local alcohol products between 150 per cent and 560 per cent in October 2016.

“Insufficient enforcement coupled with high tax rates sealed the fate of such tragedies to occur,” it said in a statement.

It said the alcohol products consumed by the victims were suspected to be fake and most likely smuggled into Malaysia under the guise of parallel imports of the original product as they were neither Malaysian products nor bottled by licensed bottlers in the country.

“Illegal border smuggling and import of counterfeit liquor products have exacerbated since the 2016 tax increase.

“These illicit operators do not pay any form of tax and hence stand to make about 200 per cent to 300 per cent in profit as demand for affordable liquor is high with lucrative profits,” the association said.

Earlier, Selangor police chief commissioner Datuk Mazlan Mansor said authorities arrested seven individuals in Selangor for their alleged involvement in the sale of tainted alcoholic beverages.

The case is also being investigated for culpable homicide not amounting to murder after the death toll rose to 17 people since Sunday with 50 people hospitalised.

Pointing out that local liquor was often misrepresented as ‘cheap compounded hard liquor’, the association, made up of about 30 members, said the margin of their products was purposely kept slim in order to provide a safe and regulated alternative to more expensive imports which some customer demanded.

 “We have been active in trying to educate outlet operators and consumers in buying original products and constantly make improvements in our packaging to circumvent the problems arising from imitation and fake products.

“While we continue to push for better enforcement and cooperate with relevant government bodies to assist in any way we can, we strongly advise anyone who comes across products that are sold below market price or is said to be ‘duty-free’ in retail shops or from unlicensed operators to refrain from buying,” it said.

The Health Ministry explained yesterday that those affected by suspected alcohol poisoning were found to have a history of compounded hard liquor intake and showed symptoms of methanol poisoning.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah today said the ministry’s investigation was now focused on the level of methanol content in alcoholic drinks with samples sent to the Sungai Buloh National Public Health Laboratory for analysis.

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